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Directed by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro
Sunday, June 24 at Anthology Film Archives’s “The School of Reis: The Films and Legacy of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro”
A title card states that Ana was filmed in the lands of Miranda do Douro and Bragança. The camera then pans slowly to show exactly how this small, hilly home for snow and wind looks, as an unknown figure rides a horse both ways across a bridge. There’s a Portuguese style immediately present, involving long-take long shots of marginal lives. Nonprofessional actors play versions of themselves against natural environments, so that humans become part of the landscape. Every object, animate or inanimate, looks worth preserving. The films are more than documentaries—they’re documents.
Many recent members of the Portuguese school (which includes Pedro Costa, Marcelo Felix, Miguel Gomes, João Pedro Rodrigues, and Gonçalo Tocha, among others) studied under António Reis, one of Ana’s co-directors, who made four films in total with his wife Margarida Cordeiro. Their story presents a family in which both the granddaughter and (Cordeiro’s real-life) grandmother are called Ana, and in which people pass the bright green days together before huddling at dusk to hide from time. Men discuss the problems of a developing society while women knit, wash clothes, cook, and live maintaining it. Like Reis and Cordeiro’s Tr´s-os-Montes (1976), which travels through villages in Cordeiro’s home region, the film is a record of a beautiful place most viewers will have never seen before; like their Jaime (1974), which records the words, places, and curved, spiral-filled figures of a mental patient’s sketches, it suggests how some of the most beautiful spaces are created inside the mind.
“One day the world will end,” a voice speaks over a swaying hillside, in time belonging to the old woman, who watches before it turns dark. Over and over, people look offscreen, and seeing what they see jolts. It’s not that sheep, dogs, trees, leaves, and other signs of life are innately strange, but that the film looks so closely at what you thought you knew already that the sights grows strange with wonder. The magic show young Ana attends, full of jugglers and men pulling rabbits from hats, is less magical than a close view of a flock of walking, squawking wild geese that ends with a child balancing herself on a ball. She falls off eventually, because that’s how life works. The old ones will die, and the young will someday join them. One can be like grandmother Ana, who catches herself by accident in the mirror and stares deeply, considering something. Or one can be like the boy whose feet crunch the ground as he races through wheat. Seeing the world can make one shiver with sadness, or with pleasure.