“THE LAST TIME I SAW MACAO” ****
In the opening sequence of this semi-documentary conceived by Portuguese filmmakers João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata, pieces of the film’s mysterious puzzle are shattered through different images that will connect within the intriguing and seductive language practiced by the talented duo. A charming entertainer performs on a stage surrounded by furious tigers; an isolated area is suddenly filled by a few men playing a mortal game, where one of them succumbs.
The mystery is set, while an eye-opening shot from the perspective of Rui, inside of a boat, arriving in Macao, a former Portuguese Colony in the China Sea, brings a stylized narrative in noir territory, growing a suffocating tension, and a sensual line, as he tells the reason he’s returning to the place he grew up, which brings him memories of the happiest time in his life and also a good amount of a cultural clash. He’s assigned to help rescue his long time friend, a transvestite who dances in a club, and is caught up with the local mafia, members of a strange cult, that worships a cage. His attempts to find her are frustrating but it serves as a form to explore the area once lost, recounting its history, social shapes, natural landscapes and its dark architecture. The directors show their authentic style with their interesting and unusual cinematic vision, never introducing their main characters’ faces, creating a suspenseful tone on the use of their voices off, offering the audience to capture the film through the insight of the characters’ emotions and uneasiness. In Rui’s words, they remained to their intentions for the project, when they arrived in Macao, conceiving a documentary film, based on personal stories and reactions, which are the memories he recounts from the place he used to know, and the impressions caused in Pedro’s first visit to the over-populated Island. This territorial exploration is told through an astonishing and meditative language. They are able to capture the city’s simple aspects, as well as the danger and mysteries that surround them. They use a nostalgic, profound, seductive and melancholic perspective to explore the emotions on the characters, the animals, and the landscape, with a provocative and explosive sensibility.
The result is a poetic and inevitable contemplation on Nature, living species, spaces, desire and passion. Acclaimed in many Festivals around the globe, including one of the highlights in last year’s New York Film Festival, the film is also listed in many critics’ Top Lists. It confirms the sort of magical touch Portuguese cinema has been showing and the language these emerging directors are practicing, which step by step are conquering their place as one of the most respectful art cinema industry in contemporary world. (Showing at Film Society Lincoln Center, 144 W 65th Street, NYC)