It’s the Earth Not the Moon
Directed by Gonçalo Tocha
"There's never the feeling that we're not in the middle of the ocean." Appealingly open to the elements, the Portuguese documentary It's the Earth Not the Moon spends three full-immersion hours on a verdant, crater-dented isle jutting out of the mid-Atlantic. Inhabited for 500 years and now counting 353 registered voters, Corvo lies at the remotest tip of Portugal's Azores archipelago-one resident observes that it's "the furthest point of Europe." In footage taken from the surrounding water by director Gonçalo Tocha, a single cloud often appears to hover directly over the landmass.
A travelogue with occasional voiceover intrusions by Tocha and sound man Dídier Pestana, It's the Earth canvasses various endangered island rituals (wooden lock-making, pig slaughter, cattle birthing) and local sites of interest (sprawling common lands, abandoned whale-watching post, open-air dump) during the period of time it takes a village elder to knit the director a whalers' cap in the traditional style. The far-flung island's changing relationship to the political and economic world at large quietly becomes a key subject. A public-transport vessel launches, linking Corvo with the nearby Flores island. Local elections commence, with much talk of constrained services and the neglectful national government. During a storm, a Turin Horse-strength gale whips down the island's deserted perimeter road; later, Tocha's camera looks on as two photographers film an Audi convertible traveling an adjacent route.
If the film can occasionally feel a bit rudderless, that's at least partially due to the elusive nature of its setting. Tocha sits in as elderly residents flip through their photo albums, but it emerges that collective memory is otherwise in short supply. The tiny crag of an island has evaded prospective historians' best-faith efforts: The film's succession of townspeople begins with a corporal who has long since fed his decades-spanning journal to the flames; we later learn, in voiceover, that a fire also destroyed a large portion of the municipal council's archives. By his film's concluding chapter, even Tocha himself seems to be fading from the landscape: In a placid shot from within the island's now-overgrown volcanic crater, the cameraman and his machine cast a long shadow, but one that's slowly effaced with the shifting of the clouds overhead.
Opens July 13 at Anthology Film Archives