Despite being active since 1990 and directing a dozen or so films of various lengths and in various formats, it wasn’t until around the release of A Woman’s Revenge in 2012, a distinctive costume (melo)drama, that the singular Portuguese cinéaste Rita Azevedo Gomes gained a larger reputation within international film circuits outside her motherland. Her most recent film, The Kegelstatt Trio (originally titled, O trio em mi bemol), premiered at this year’s Berlinale Forum section, and sees Gomes adapting late French filmmaker Éric Rohmer’s 1987 same-name stage play (which itself was inspired by a famous Mozart piece) for the screen. A highly articulated and refined artistic work which is mostly presented in what’s become discernibly Gomes’ style — particularly in those qualities previously seen in 2016’s Correspondences and 2019’s Danses Macabres, Skeletons, and Other Fantasies: a modern-day work of cinematic introspection, scaled to chamber piece status, that revolves around a small group of people in an almost reclusive location far from the hubbub and burdens of the everyday outside world (which couldn’t be more suitable for a work filmed in a hermetic situation during the pandemic). Set at a well-lit, minimalist but snazzy villa in a northern coastal Portuguese town, The Kegelstatt Trio consists mostly of a series of encounters and conversations between a former couple, Paul (Pierre Léon) and Adélia (Rita Durão), who through their dialogues discuss and reflect upon familiar notions of love, passion, and relationships while also trading more highbrow discourse about things like music and art.
While Gomes remains faithful to Rohmer’s seven tableaux structure, she still treats her work with a sui generis method as a meta-film — or more precisely, as a film-in-making. Casting the Spanish veteran and maverick filmmaker Adolfo Arrieta as her counterpart on screen, something of a Rohmer doppelgänger and a godhead figure in front of the camera, it’s fair to say that Gomes in this way forms another trio, alongside the one which already involves Mozart, Rohmer, and herself. In fact, it’s not hard to glean many other trios in the film: one of spaces, bodies, and texts; of language, speech and music; of music, theater and cinema; and one of on-screen rehearsals, improvisations, and a tautly pre-conceived execution. And in depicting them all, Gomes, as she has before, relies upon a very delicate balance working with both mise-en-scène (in terms of different modes of staging, arranging, and blocking of bodies on the set) and mise-en-plans (more or less in the same sense that French film analyst Raymond Bellour has explicated: forming the visual compositions according to the photographic and painterly coordinates of single frames) via dominating medium-long shots.
Thus, despite its predominantly sophisticated conversations and its intellectual nature, Gomes knows perfectly how to control the overall atmosphere of her film through a very free-flowing rhythm, a subtle comic tone, a blithe mood, and, perhaps foremost, a colorful range of vocal accentuations, intonations, and pulsations of her actors’ rhetoric, without coming off as either snobbish or tedious. It’s also notable how Gomes presents all this as some holy mix of the Straubs, João César Monteiro, and (again) Rohmer, crafting her own version of what can be easily read as a peculiar, nonconformist rom-com. To this end, and as an allusion to Mozart’s piece, Gomes masterfully (and seemingly, effortlessly) proceeds to delineate both the harmonies, counterpoints, and dissonances of a contemporary relationship, ultimately, forming a resonant, euphonious (re)union between the man and the woman. And as much as Paul represents the intellectual aspects of a man of curated taste in his persistent appreciation of high-cultured art and classical music, Adélia remains curiously open to the more sensual and unfamiliar dimensions of life. For Paul, essence lies within a sense of corporeal stasis but intellectual devotion, while Adélia conversely praises the importance of bodily movement. It’s reflects a synthesis that vividly defines Rita Azevedo Gomes’ contemplative and sensorial The Kegelstatt Trio — meticulously studying shifting bodily gestures, postures, and movements within fixed compositional shots, architectural spaces and natural landscapes. That leaves us with the last, but definitely not the least, of the film’s trios, one at risk of feeling gauche but which Gomes executes with delicacy and aplomb: it’s nothing less than the trinity of mind, body and soul.
Published as part of Berlin Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 1.