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Archive: Joao Pedro Rodrigues

New film by Portugese co-directors Joao Pedro Rodrigues and his former art director and co-writer Joao Rui Guerra da Mata (“To Die Like A Man”), who were just recently visiting Berlin in conjunction with the Hands on Fassbinder event. The Film Noir influenced semi-documentary premiered in August at the Locarno Film Festival and follows the the directors on their trip to the former Portuguese colony Macao, where da Mata spent his childhood as the son of a naval officer, before the city’s was handed over to China in 1999. In the trailer, you see parts of the opening sequence of the film, which features Candy (Cindy Scrash from ”To Die Like A Man”) lip-synching to Jane Russell’s “You Kill Me” from Josef Von Sternbergh’s film “Macao” from 1952. I haven’t seen the film yet, so for more information please check out either this info PDF from the Locarno festival, or this entertaing excerpt from a video interview with the two directors shot during the Toronto International Film Festival or this nice review on Film School Rejects. And please don’t forget to read our essay “Magnificent Obession” about the work of Joao Pedro Rodrigues by our contributor Jon Davis.

Recently celebrated with a retrospective at the TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto, Canada, Portuguese filmmaker João Pedro Rodrigues is undeniably one of the most distinctive and innovative queer voices in cinema today.

In his youth Rodrigues wanted to be an ornithologist, but from the age of 15 ended up spending much of his time in the cinema. “My desire to make films came from watching films,” Rodrigues states, “and I learned to make films from watching films.” While he started studying biology, he made the move to film school as his passion grew, and his films exhibit these odd-couple origins: they have a certain clinical or analytical gaze married with a deep love of artifice and fantasy.

Rodrigues was particularly drawn to silent cinema – Erich von Stroheim, DW Griffith, Charlie Chaplin – and to the work of French postwar director Robert Bresson. “But,” Rodrigues cautions, “when I’m making a film I try to get rid of all my influences, because I don’t want to make films as this director or that director did, I try to find my own language.” Indeed Rodrigues’s films seem steeped in his devotion to cinema and its rich, century-old history, but rather than merely referencing the past, they build something utterly new from this foundation.

Fascinated by the extreme lengths that people will go to indulge their desires and pursue their obsessions, Rodrigues directed his first feature film, O Fantasma, in 2000. It follows Sergio, a brooding garbage man as he cruises the streets in the dead of night. Shot primarily in the dark, with only an ambient soundtrack, the film is suffused with a listless and violently narcissistic sexuality. Hunky Sergio is perpetually masturbating or fucking, but he is incapable of otherwise relating to people and remains trapped in a crippling solitude. He is virtually a beast, sniffing or licking furiously like some kind of nympho bloodhound. Increasingly frustrated by the un-conquerability of a man he encounters and then stalks throughout the film, Sergio dons a black, full-body rubber suit, transforming himself into an anonymous, post-human stain (or maybe a giant, shimmering black dildo). After kidnapping and brutalizing his prey, this creature flees to the edge of town, drinking from dirty puddles in a post-apocalyptic landfill straight out of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema or Porcile.

After this striking debut, Rodrigues became interested in “how to make a melodrama nowadays in Portugal with things that I’m connected to.” Drawing on Hollywood directors from the 1950s like Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli, as well as art filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who revisited the melodrama genre in 1970s Germany), he directed the equally daring and darkly Romantic Odete (AKA Two Drifters), 2005, about Odete, a woman haunted by her gay neighbour Pedro after he dies in a car accident. The film plays out as a post-mortem love triangle of sorts: through their shared love for the song “Moon River” and their languorous kiss that opens the film, Pedro is eternally bound to his boyfriend Rui, so it is only natural that Pedro would find himself reincarnated – in Odete’s body.

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After the brilliant “O Fantasma” (“A Fantom”), which is still one of my favourite movies ever and “Odete” (“Two Drifters”), “To Die Like A Man” is the third full-length film by Portugese director João Pedro Rodrigues. The movie about an aging drag performer struggeling with his life premiered at the Cannes film festival in spring last year and received only few attention (except for this pretty ugly review of Variety). Rordiquez describes the movie as his most feminine one, although there are no (biologically) female actors amngst his staff: “To Die Like a Man” is inspired on personal accounts from transsexuals, drag artists, doctors, and showbiz people that I interviewed during the months when I was preparing to write this story”, he explains here. “However, it was never my intention to follow these stories closely. Rather, I adjusted my writing to the demands of the fictional development of the characters, entering into dialogue with the codes of musical comedy, melodrama, and tragedy.”
The movie is shown in French cinemas since May and is (according to my personal movie  information source Jan) supposed to premiere in Germany in the next few weeks. You find a longer review of the movie and an interview with Rodriques here. I also guess there will be a DVD realease pretty soon. Portugese and French speaking people as well as people who want to see the movie trailer in a higher resolution should skip the video below and click here.