Berlinale Forum Interview | 2019
Serpentário / Serpentarius
Angola / Portugal
A young man drifts through a post-disaster African landscape looking for his mother's ghost.
Hi Carlos thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for the festival?
Hell yes. I had 4 years to edit the film and a little less than a month to colour-grade and mix it. We are all set all right.
With a festival like Berlinale do you ever get nervous ahead of the screening?
I do, yes, but in every festival. I'm obsessed with the sound and always think that, if the film is not well mixed or if the volume is too low, the audience will not really get the film the way they should. I try to screen-test it before each session. With the Berlinale, I know we will be technically all right so I'm not worried.
This will be your World Premiere does this add any additional pressure on you?
Of course. I mean this is the first time I will show this film to anyone. Only 5 or 6 people saw it so far. Plus, it is my first feature to be released and it was done in a much different way than I'm used to in my work: minimal crew, no artifice, no DoP, no makeup... Just facts and feelings. It's a very naked film. So, yes, there is some pressure. Maybe “curiosity” is a better word because there is no fear involved. I wonder if the audience will engage. Period. It's a mystery, but we will know in a week.
What does it mean to be part of the Forum strand at Berlinale?
The Forum is the trend-setting base. Much like Locarno, in a way. There are a few festivals that actually shed a different light on new shapes and new ways to do it. Others celebrate the very difficult art of doing the archetype, which takes a lot of guts and knowledge, of course. I'm proud to be included in such a fresh program, especially since I'm usually very classically-driven. Being part of the Forum kind of invites self-discovery and that's incredibly thrilling.
Can you tell me a little bit about Serpentário/Serpentarius, how did the film come about?
I lived in Angola until 2002, then went to film school in Lisbon, but my mother stayed there. She has a very close bond with the country, with memories, but I'm too recent to fully understand that, so I've always felt a little homeless in the world. I pretend I'm European though. Every time I go to Africa I think of what films it inspires in me. Somehow I feel closer to the truth there than in Europe or in America. It's something in the air. This film happened when I realized it had to be done by me, no-one else, and also that it was not only possible to produce it but actually compulsory to do it with minimalism.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
A parrot. My mother wanted a hyacinth macaw and these birds live like an absurdly long time. She asked me if I'd be willing to take care of it when she died. Of course, I hope she will live for a long time like most people in her family but nevertheless, it was a troubling conversation. It was the backstory I needed for the film: a young guy that was separated from his mother by her choice to live as a hermit in a remote country; a disaster that killed her and destroyed the land; a parrot that may or may not have preserved her voice.
"...I learned the most with this film."
What was the most challenging part of bringing this film to life?
As I said, shooting it was no problem because this is not the kind of film that would succeed in being classically produced, with a team, blah blah blah. But it took 4 years to finish because post-production costs money and I didn't get any fund in either Portugal or Angola. Actually, to this moment, it remains self-produced and what you'll see is the result of an incredibly small team's work.
As well as being writer and director you also served as cinematography, editing and producing Serpentário/Serpentarius, how did you manage all these different roles on this film?
Well, I had to. Until a certain moment, it was not a choice. Then I had a lot of help from my friends who are on the team. My tasks were always separated in time anyway.
Is it something you will do again?
Yup. Surprisingly, I learned the most with this film. Especially that operating the camera gives a different sort of control over the material, over the narrative, the writing and the editing. It's both a continuation of the screenwriting process and the first stage of editing. It also forces you to understand photography in the context of the idea, to think of light and decide what is essential and what is not. Not all films are possible to make like this, though. It doesn't mean that I'm going to work like this from now on. My next film is a big-budget thing where I'll probably have 30 or more people around me. But I'm taking what I learned here. That's for sure.
"I went to film school and I don't remember getting good advice from teachers."
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
How has your approach to your films changed since you got into filmmaking?
In the beginning, I wanted to make films that resembled the ones I liked to watch. But I liked so many different things, from Lubitsch to Tsai Ming-Liang, that it only made me confused. Now I feel like taste is one thing, doing it can be something completely different. This is perhaps why most cinemathèque rats can't actually make films... Now the film just comes to my head and I either recognize it as mine (I'm probably lying here but it's hard to explain differently) or try to make it work as something that I've not yet seen.
How important is the collaborative process on a film like this?
The smaller the team the most important a collaboration becomes. João is more than half of this film. He has the most exquisite dramatic control. The whole film is based on his ability to just filter emotions and seem unpolluted in the process. It's somehow Bressonian in a way but it's quite the opposite too. He has the most incredible craft not only for someone as young as he was when we shot but especially for the Portuguese acting milieu. He's just way beyond that.
What are you currently working on?
Finishing my new film and putting the last touches on a script.
Do you have any advice for any up and coming filmmaker?
Advice is a big responsibility. It's hard to give good advice because everyone is different. Personally, I don't like getting unrequested advice because you never know where the other person is coming from in the process. Giving advice takes a lot of care. I went to film school and I don't remember getting good advice from teachers. The best teachers were neutral in their position towards the students or their projects. There was this guy that always had something to say about everything but he was incapable of seeing the people in front of him, he was so in love with his own voice. I remember that my advice at the time would definitely have been “Don't trust your teachers”. Now, I just hope people are able to think of films in a non-comparative way because structures, images, rhythm, ideas, are as different and unique as the people behind them. So, there will never be a teacher or a critic entitled to tell you your film does not work because they simply have no idea.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Serpentário/Serpentarius?
From the moment it is screened it will only remain my film throughout the Q&A. After that, it will be a memory. So it will be different from viewer to viewer, and people can do what they please with it. That's what the film is about, come to think of it. I read the concept for “post-memory” the other day. It was kind of interesting.