João-One (shown at left) claims he doesn't like to talk about his work (see interview below) -- and who can blame him? An artist's work should speak for itself -- still, he proved a charming and interesting conversationalist, so TrustMovies bets he'll make a smart and enjoyable host for that Q&A. If you're a newcomer to JPR's output, you're in for a crazy ride. In the first of the shorts in this fest, Happy Birthday! (Parabéns!),
Eduardo Sobral) that a 30-something architect (played by João-Two, shown at right) has picked up the night before, awakens in the latter's apartment and has a morning look-around. Young Sobral is a delight in this extremely fresh outing, the most "normal" of Rodrigues' films that I've seen.
Instead of the story circling around, it's the location that does so, coming back to the house through the window of which, at the film's beginning, the two soldiers watched as two transvestites partied. When we come back to this house, the film turns (even more) surreal, offering up a love song (religious?), as our characters, including a dog, sit together in what seems a kind of enchanted forest. After which the movie momentarily turn into L'avventura (with Tonia standing in for the missing Anna).
The Rodrigues retrospective takes off this Wednesday, October 6. You can find all the information about it, including ticket availability, here. Directions to BAM can be found here.
Whew! Sorry about all that. I don't use Skype often enough to remember how to do it... OK: I think I've seen all your films at this point -- oh, except for China, China. Any chance that we will see that soon?
Yes, it’s part of the retro at BAM. (João's right; this short precedes the showing of Two Drifters, Thursday, October 7 at 7:30.)
Do your films reflect gay life in Portugal, particularly?
I don’t draw the films to make a portrait of how is gay life in Portugal. It is more the stories I have in mind that are closer to me that I want to tell in that moment of my life. My purpose was never, when I started –- well, of course they are gay-themed but that was not my purpose. That is because I am gay and these are the stories that I want to tell. But I do feel in myself that my main goal is not to make gay cinema. I just want to make films.
And you have. Drifters, in some ways, was not so gay. Or was it?
I try to be honest with what I am telling and my feelings. But my films are not autobiographical. Of course there are elements of things that come from myself. Because I write them, along with other people. But they are not portraits of myself . I don’t want to make self-centered cinema. I make my films for others to see.
So you are making them for as many people as possible to see. That’s what all artists do, on some level, I believe.
I do understand that these are not films for six-year-olds. But if you are 16 or 18 or more, then I think it is OK.
When Drifters first came out, it was allowed for twelve or older to get in to see it in Portugal. But for To Die Like a Man… (he thinks a moment) I cannot remember because I was traveling a lot to promote the film and so I was not here when it opened.
I believe that children can better understand things than we, especially we here in America, give them credit for.
Yes, and anyway, they have access to the internet.
Hmmm… (He think about this.) Maybe so. Happy Birthday, from 1997, was my first short. So… Yes, because I think I have grown darker myself.
That’s probably normal; as we age we become aware of the darker side of life and things that we can't so easily dismiss.
Maybe, but some people never seem to do this – to come to terms with the tragedy or what is happening in their lives.
They could be like ghosts, and yes, in an enchanted forest. You know, the character of Maria already existed as a character. A friend of mind plays this character in a play in the theater. She plays it in English. Originally she did not want to play it in Portuguese. But this character in the film is not exactly the same as Maria. The character is inspired by everyone from Callas to Dietrich. My friend creates a character, he sings songs, plays jokes, and is very funny. But it only makes sense in English -- at least he thought this would be true. He thought that the subtleties of the English language could not adapt to Portuguese, so I had to convince him.
There is a book called Casa Susanna in which there are photos from the 60s of men dressed as women in a country house and in the forest. It is by Robert Swope. The people are not identified because the photos were found in flea market. There is one photo that says Casa Susanna. So he imagined this as the place where these men wearing drag would meet and have conversations and tea and whatever. These were the inspirations for a kind of utopia where you could be as you want to be.
Interesting. Because, even though this is a world that could offer her/him a lot more freedom, Tonia becomes frightened there and insists on going back to her home and her life.
Watching the film made me wonder if you, as a filmmaker, and maybe as a person, wanted to put the two sexes together into a single package that incorporates both male and female. So we can have it all.
Hmmm. ..I don’t have many friends who are this way, so I didn’t really know these people. They puzzled me. So the film is a reflection of what I felt while I was hearing these stories and while I was meeting these people. I don’t also want to give any answer that might say, "Transsexuals are all like this." Even though my film is a tragedy, I did meet some younger people like this who seem to have a happier life. It’s not easy, this thing of changing gender, but they are people who have a somewhat normal life. Not every story is a tragedy. But I wanted to tell a tragedy so I wrote a script like this one.
It’s like a classical tragedy, because there is someone who can not find her most inner desires.
But also at the end of the film there is a kind of acceptance of her/his destiny. As there is with her young lover. So they are at peace, perhaps?
As she is very Catholic, there is almost, like, an assumption. She is the Virgin of -- or the Madonna of -- the Transsexuals. She is reaching up. And wearing red and blue – the colors of the Madonna, as in the painting of Titan and others. That I like very much!
What’s it like in Portugal – for gays?
Evidently you can trust your political parties to do what they say they will do. We can’t do that.
(He laughs) Sometimes, at least. Sometimes they promise things, and then they do not do them.
How is the economy there?
Not so good. Very complicated. We were always one of the poorest countries, and now that we are in the European Union, we are still one of the least developed counties. It is not easy.
So you're on the Euro, right?
Is there anything else you want to say – while I’ve got you. Something you’ve always wanted to say, but nobody ever asked.
I think you’ve been a fine person to talk to. But you're right: When the work is good -- when it's real -- it will speak for itself. So thanks for this interview, João, and enjoy your time in the US and at BAM.