Between the tragic and the pathetic: the incongruous aesthetics of joão césar monteiro
Inventors and Masters are two of the three definitions Ezra Pound thought up to classify the creators of Literature (the Diluters would be the third one): the Inventors are "men who found a new process, or whose extant work gives us the first known example of a process"; the Masters are "men who combined a number of such processes, and who used them as well as or better than the inventors". We can transpose this definition into filmmaking, and, when we consider the modern cinema, Manoel de Oliveira would probably come out as one of the most relevant artists. A Master, just like his fellowPortuguese countrymen António Reis and João César Monteiro. But, while Manoel de Oliveira and António Reis portray the work and attitude of masters, João César Monteiro seems too much of an outsider to the placed as one of the "Portuguese film masters". He is one of the anomalies, like Luís Buñuel, Jerry Lewis, Charles Chaplin, Nicholas Ray and Jean-Luc Godard. All masters, undoubtedly, but they couldn't care less about it. Just like these outsider masters, his work rejects disciples who are too appreciative or disciplined.
The fact remains that films like Recordações da casa amarela (Recollections of the Yellow House, 1989), A comédia de Deus (God's Comedy, 1995) and Vai e vem (Come and Go, 2003), among others, are an important reference when dealing with more than one artistic, and certainly aesthetic, type from the Portuguese modern cinema, despite the radical individuality of Monteiro's films. First, there is a certain formal balance in his carefully constructed shots, even if the casualness of the mise en scène gives an aspect of spontaneity or simplicity. Secondly, a refusal of the image that is more "informative" than aesthetic, meaning: the image merchandize, the image typified in a vulgar way, the best example of this is the image from television. Manoel de Oliveira has already declared to film against the TV, just like João César Monteiro, when questioned about the radical opacity of Branca de Neve (Snow White, 2000), he answers the reporter: "What did you expect, a telenovela?"
His work is in the unfathomable relationship between the tragic and the pathetic. Monteiro is a pessimist comedian, like Buster Keaton, in the sense that he has a philosophical and abstract perspective of comedy, since he sees the discrepancy and the incongruence of the social and individual being, making the various articulations of the world relative, including the tragic element therein. João César Monteiro' sweetness doesn't compete with the buffoonery; they're both a part of him, inseparable and complementary.
The João CésarMonteiro Retrospective in CineBH will exhibit some of his most relevant works - Silvestre (1981), À flor do mar (Hovering Over the Water, 1986), Recordações da casa amarela (Recollections of the Yellow House,1989), Le Bassin de JW (The Hips of J.W.,1997), A comédia de Deus (God’s Comedy, 1995), As bodas de Deus (The Spousals of God, 1999), Branca de Neve (Snow White (2000) and Vai e vem (Come and Go, 2003) – and it is a part of the debate we're trying to present this year, for João César Monteiro films radically bet on the intricate simplicity of structure and objective. It’s the cinema of an outsider master, contradictory and untamed. Vai e Vem(Come and Go) summarizes the image we're trying to capture: the (self) portrait of João César Monteiro – named here JoãoVuvu – is a lonely fellow close to death. In his agony, there is still the erotic and the ironic, both used as devices to resist death. The director resists death by recoding it. The image of resistance is what’s left for posterity: his resistance, his body's and his films.
Francis Vogner dos Reis
Curator for CineBH International Film Festival