VIDEO ESSAY: The Portuguese Process – Pedro Costa and Miguel Gomes
Correction: While the video refers to Our Beloved Month of August as Miguel Gomes' debut feature, the film is actually his second.
One of the most striking films in recent memory is Our Beloved Month of August by Portugal’s Miguel Gomes. Part of what makes it so remarkable is the near-disastrous predicament in which it was made. Gomes and his crew traveled to the Portuguese countryside to shoot his first feature, only to discover that his funding fell through. Nonetheless, they decided to stick around and film their surroundings, improvising a documentary panorama that captures the vibrant lives and people they encountered, punctuated by summer concerts and festivals. They also turn the camera on themselves, recording their own working process as they figure out how to salvage their project. Then, unexpectedly, the film shifts into a fiction, and the documentary world we’ve been watching is transformed into a storybook version of itself. We are watching a film showing us how it becomes itself, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly.
Gomes may have been influenced in part by his fellow countryman Pedro Costa, who is a major practitioner of film as a process. In Ne Change Rien, he films the French actress and singer Jeanne Balibar recording her debut album and performing on stage. Balibar’s search for the right sound is a laborious process of false starts and retakes, but Costa films it with an incredible sense of precision and focus. Never once moving the camera, he’s utterly locked into each moment. Using a deceptively simple palette of shadows and light, he sculpts an arresting portrait of Balibar as she shapes her music.
Both of these films are remarkable in how they use what might normally be considered outtakes or behind-the-scenes scraps, sifting them to reveal beguiling mysteries to the creative process. I don’t think it’s an accident that music figures so prominently in both films. Music is that state of sublime expression that transcends and transforms the language of the mundane. Both of these films do so much to show just what it takes to get ther
Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe, and a contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.