a film by Manuela Serra

Stories from a daily routine of silence. In deserted byways troubled by a worrying wind, in a village in the North. There is a day’s labour spent by three families: four old women, the countryside, bread, the hens, and to remind us, clearings of time-worn stories of actions savoured in the mineral bite of words. A family of 10 children on a farm plunge into the depth of time in the labour-laden action of the father cutting down a tree. Further on the water of the river inhabited by people, in a boat, the Sun and the village centre, the bridge under construction, the verandah, the meal, the density and mysticism of Sunday, the mass and the local fair: the ritual practice of Saturday. Isabel moves against the fragments of this scenery, she too with her gaze to the future, beyond all the others for whom life is no more than living.
Time goes beyond sunrise and sunset. Life is inhaled using the countryside as a medium in a village of the North with its slow and ancient activities. It is a pause in life through things and their dislocation in time; values; silence.

Teresa Sá, original synopsis

A conversation between Rita Morais e Manuela Serra

Rita Morais: As a way of introducing “O Movimento das Coisas” that takes place in a village in Alto Minho, Lanheses, tell us about the process, your arrival in Lanheses, the reason why you chose this village in particular in these specific years, between 1979 and 1980.

Manuela Serra: When I decided that the film would take place in a village, I began looking for the one that could best serve my intentions. I first looked in the South and my idea was to shoot in the Alentejo plains and that characteristic low architecture. But, at the time, in 1978, when I went on that trip, there was a very closed environment for women there. For a woman to go to a tavern and have a coffee was not well seen so I didn’t feel I was welcome to stay, neither from the men nor the women. Let’s say you needed a sort of passport. Women were also unpleasant to me, they felt some distrust. I think it’s different today, although I’ve been told that it’s still not very common for women to go to taverns but I don’t know. Anyway, that took me back to the North, where, despite everything, women were more open - more open to what was new and different. It was easier to communicate, I never felt any hostility, not even in that first impact when you visit a place and you go to a restaurant or a café. Beira was a sadder region compared to Minho. Minho is more cheerful and it captivated me because of that. I had an indication to go to Lanheses and I fell in love with the village, that is beautiful, with the river… Then I spoke to the priest and he was very receptive…

RM: The priest who appears in the film… Collecting tithes?

MS: Also, yes. I think it’s the Sacristan there who’s collecting the money but that’s the same priest. He is the one who crosses paths with the man at the gas station. They agreed to act in the film and it was funny because they were angry at each other and weren’t talking at the time. Once, the priest met me in the square and I asked him to be in the film and he agreed. As he had accepted it, they had to make peace with each other to act. So, I chose Lanheses because of its beauty but also because I was really welcomed there. Besides, the village is located on a road that goes from Viana do Castelo to Ponte de Lima, so it was not confined in itself, it was a crossing point between two cities, which made it more open to different people.

RM: In a text by Teresa Castro, written on the occasion of the film’s premiere in London, she makes an association between the film and the legend behind the river Lima, the river of forgetfulness, whose water, once drunk, would make the dead forget the lives they once lived… The relationship between the river and what the film seeks to portray is very curious: a transition, a world that will be swallowed by another and somehow left behind, forgotten. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that quest for the movement of things?

MS: I didn’t know that and of course the film is filled with symbolism, which was very important for me at the time. I don’t remember much anymore. I conceived this film when I was 30 years old and now I’m 74. Besides, this rupture I was forced to make with cinema has discouraged me from society in general. A society that did not respond in any way to the work I did, a society that devalued it, from telling me to cut the film to 45 minutes to the lack of recognition I was subjected to in this country. This had a rather disastrous effect for me, of disbelief in society, which made me turn my back and even feel a certain rejection to intellectuals, because it was them who destroyed the film. This led me, not to live life superficially, because I had very profound friendships until the end, but to mark a kind of a cross regarding society in general. Of course, this faded over time and my friends were always supportive, they didn’t let me live in intellectual isolation, but everything that had to do with cinema was cut off, crossed. To speak about forgetfulness… My whole life, I don’t know if it’s like this for everyone, there’s been a need to forget the negative or the absences, the mournings… My life was very charged with mournings, losses, deaths, but also ruptures with people, such as the cooperative, for example, which was a marriage between many people that suddenly just split.

RM: When you founded the Virver Cooperative in 1975, and in the immediate aftermath of a fascist regime, what were the expectations and key ideas within the proposal of making cinema cooperatively?

MS: We all came from Brussels, we all lived in Brussels and attended the same film school there. It’s the happiest way to live, to work with the people you love, with the people you have affinities with. And, in its constructive period, it was very good. There are atmospheres that I will never forget. Everyone doing their job in each corner of a room: one editing, another one producing, another one writing a script… There was a very creative and rich atmosphere in the air, we could share our ideas, ask for opinions… These are very happy years that I remember. To share both affections and work. When I started to direct the film, the cooperative increased the number of people and they brought other influences. There is a very important thing to mention which are social classes. And each social class has a different goal. For some, the goal is to become rich and famous, for others it’s to dedicate themselves to art and for others it’s just to see if they can get money out of it. Thus things started to define themselves in terms of social classes and in that sense, we were really very different. The big rupture for me was when they wanted the Cooperative to join a political party in order to get more work, and then, some people’s bad faith for whom anything was valid in order to get one, including the betrayal of other members of the Cooperative. Values began to deteriorate and the fact that I would be directing a film was negative for the Cooperative, since I had a background position in the group where I was in charge of production, editing, writing… I would follow the whole process of the work that was being developed in the Cooperative and when I began directing, I had to put a lot of things aside to dedicate myself to O Movimento das Coisas. I think that unbalanced the Cooperative.

RM: I read that when it came to voting, you were the only one who still wanted the Cooperative to continue.

MS: I wanted it to continue because I needed to finish the film. If for nothing else. I managed to finish it alone, but this was something that I wanted to forget and now it came back, with this distance and because I was forced to look back on what happened more than thirty years ago, I was forced to remember. Now, thinking about it at a distance, there were elements that really didn’t want me to finish the film. What used to be a Cooperative became an “every man for himself”. At the time, it was only possible to make 3 or 4 films a year. I have a list that I made in the 90’s of everyone making films at the time and we were 60 persons. The disproportion was so significant that some people were thinking “here comes this one, who even showed some capacities, to take away our funds”.

RM: The film took more than 30 years to have a theatrical release but even so the film was praised by Manoel de Oliveira and Paulo Rocha…

MS: They praised it but it wasn’t written. They just told me. For example, Manoel de Oliveira would send me invitations to premieres and I don’t even know why, because we practically didn’t knew each other. All these assured me that I had done a good job. Like having had much success in the international festivals at the time. In the year I finished O Movimento das Coisas, people would come from abroad to see the films at the Portuguese Institute of Cinema (IPC) and they really liked it. But within the IPC they created a quarrel with me. There was also a lot of promiscuity, the Institute’s employees were at the same time family members of the Director. It’s also true that there was a whole seduction game for which I had no tolerance for. After the Cooperative’s end, I began drawing clear lines between the affections and the work and I realized I didn’t had the profile to adapt.

RM: Yet the film was finished and it didn’t premiere. Apart from the possibility of making another film, we are talking about a film that was already there.

MS: That corroborates a little what I’m telling you now. Pedro Bandeira Freire once made me a proposal with a very paternalistic look, he said: “Look, what if you cut the film to 45 minutes to be aired in television? You might just be able to screen it on TV.” The Institute’s Director at the time told me that the film was shit. This is textual. I can’t believe that a professor at the Film School couldn’t understand that the film had quality, I still don’t get it. (laughs) Now I’m going down a path that’s a bit pokey. It’s a bit pokey to bad-mouth other people and I’ve been criticized for it, but it’s true, that’s what happened…

RM: On the other hand, this reencounter with the film allowed you to recover the final scene at the factory, which you’ve always wanted to keep and were advised to cut out at the time. How has been this reencounter with O Movimento das Coisas, decades later?

MS: It’s exactly the opposite of what it was, it’s the opposite of what I experienced after finishing it. Nowadays, I always meet people who liked the film a lot, it is always very well accepted and applauded and people are always wonderful to me. I don’t know if it’s because you’re young, but I can only thank you for the way you have been treating me these days. I was very antagonized, people would turn their faces away from me and today this welcoming sustains me a little as a person. It’s what sustains me with the world, in the state in which everything is right now. I am very isolated and if O Movimento das Coisas hadn’t resurfaced, I would have a very deserted life from the exterior. So nowadays going out and contact with young people is a very strong nourishment to me.

RS: Thinking about how it is to watch this film for the first time today, it is still relevant that the initial title was “Mulheres” / “Women”. How does the title and the film’s first idea adjust and transform into O Movimento das Coisas, where the representation of the gesture is so present?

MS: A very important thing for me when I made the film, was to use sensitivity more than orality. I needed to do that as an artist, to show that I was capable of making people feel or bring out my way of feeling, the way that I felt things. So much so that it’s the guiding thread of the film, my sensitivity. I was just fitting it to transmit what I felt and observed there. When I got to the village, I started to organize myself. I already had this idea of filming three different families because I wanted to approach something that would soon affect Portugal, which was the admission to the European Union and everything that would change after that. I knew that harmony would quickly disappear and I focused on filming these three families. The film’s structure is very simple. I asked the priest to indicate precise families whose children were participating at the farm field work with their parents: a big family, a family that suggested its vanishing, the one with the four women, and another one from the future, that had the girl working outside the village. I asked the priest for these types of families and went to see them. At the end of the mass, the priest explained to the people who I was, announced that I wanted to make a film and asked them to let me in, to their houses and just stay quietly at a corner, where I would stay a little in the morning, later in the afternoon, chatting… Then I began to realize what they would be able to do in front of the camera. I was there for a week, took some notes, came back to Lisbon and structured the film. I would have breakfast with a family, lunch with another, and so on. I started to distribute tasks between them and created a balance between work, recreation and religion. This was constructed by being with them in this place, realizing what’s going on, each space’s and family’s dynamics. That’s how I built the film. Of course their own existence is filled with immense symbology. For example, I edited the mass and the river in parallel as an alternative to the life of spirituality, which is not confined to church. Nature gives us the spirituality by itself.

RM: The opposition between the church and the river is part of the dualities to which the film points at, but also between the ancestral and the machine, which is threatening.

MS: Yes. And there is always an ominous sound when it comes to development. In the bridge there’s that sound, in the factory also…

RM: The sound that was worked with José Mário Branco.

MS: Yes, he understood the film, he felt it. It was very easy to work with him, easy and fast. He was so excited that a day or two after we saw the film and he understood what I wanted, the job was done. Then it was just a matter of getting the sound design right. He even made certain extra sounds to give me the possibility to continue each sound and cross it with another. He made the music so that I could edit it.

RM: These dualities and oppositions are present both in the image and in the sound through the editing. How was this process?

MS: I worked on the editing with Dominique Rolin who is a very sensitive editor. I was a little upset because she left at the end of the process. When the Cooperative ended, I stayed on one side and they stayed on the other with the money they improperly asked for. What is certain is that Dominique dropped the work and I had to do the sound design by myself which is a very wearisome process because one had to work on editing tables with three plates and the sound was made up by five bands and when you cut or add a little bit on one, you have to do it on all of them…

RM: So you finished the film with no funds…

MS: It took me so long to finish the film because two or three elements of the Cooperative asked for money to the Portuguese Institute of Cinema that they then had to justify and when they were asked to justify it, they told them I had spent it so the Institute wouldn’t give me the last installment to finish the film until I could justify the money. And I couldn’t justify it because I wasn’t even aware they had asked for that money, 2500 ‘contos’, which was more than I had had to make the film. I was blocked for three years or so until I managed to prove to the Institute that the money hadn’t been spent by me. All of these things made me so angry with people.

RM: And the people in the film… Did you meet Isabel again?

MS: Isabel died before the film was finished. And I wasn’t able to screen the film in Lanheses until very recently. I asked for funds to the Portuguese Institute of Cinema to be able to show the film there and they didn’t grant it. I managed to show it there because recently there was a group of enthusiasts in Encontros do Fundão who watched the film and came with me to Lanheses, three or four years ago. The only one who watched it was this little girl that plays with a dog in the film. She was present in the screening and said a funny thing: that the film showed her how happy she had been in her childhood. At least it served a purpose. For her. This film is full of sad stories… But it gets better by the end, doesn’t it?


NOVOCINE thanks Manuela Serra and The Stone and The Plot