Lisbon plays itself in Where Is This Street? or With No Before or After, the first collaboratively directed film from partners João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata since The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012). But the city has been typecast. Reverent and rigid cinephiles, the structural thread for this tossed-off pandemic film is that the duo’s 16mm camera will follow the locations of Paulo Rocha’s The Green Years (1963) scene by scene. It will seem to do this, to the uninitiated, as a strict game, but the progression is in fact rather loose: there is choreography, but it still has to be interpreted. The images from Rocha’s film that have the strongest sense of composition, such as a gutter-view window looking onto a street, or a long-shot summation of an unraveling, muddied relationship, are not recreated. Instead, each scene is traveled through, in a closed-off, though spontaneously lensed and edited, recreation.
It has been nearly six decades since Rocha’s film began what came to be termed Portugal’s Cinema Nova, and so Lisbon’s most overt changes, in architecture and in cinema, would seem to be the star. There is no voiceover, which was used to establish continuity in Macao, nor is there any free-floating dialogue from Rocha’s film. Aside from the filmmakers’ typically cringeworthy cameos, scenes do not feature any onscreen actors or speaking parts, though there is one notable exception. Carlos Parades’ renowned fado score is similarly unused, which would seem to suggest mere nostalgia is not of interest. But despite the way the duo tease out the eternal problems of beginning again when the presence of the old masters lingers, this is a sedate and unserious movie. Time is made for Covid ironies and slapstick, but not for any modulation in image or text that would complicate our consideration of Rocha’s film, let alone the scrim of this one.
The filmmakers’ strongest interventions into their structural conceit supply some possible readings. They devise paeans to the goddesses of cinema (Jane Russell in Macao; Isabel Ruth, who appears in an interlude and a finale, in Where Is This Street?). They record the presence of historical ghosts in everyday life; hence the sudden whip-snaps to the attention of the camera. And they pay tribute to the cinema’s ability to act as a memory device, sending one further downstream in the flow of time with each recurrence. (The film’s one extract from The Green Years is of Paulo Renato musing on age and art: “When we grow up and become men, it is a different novel. It is the novel of lifting one’s life and placing it high up, so no one can step on it.”)
All of these ideas, which are external to the world of Rocha’s film, are considered sufficiently half-developed for the purpose of their essay. The return to an unrecognizably changed home is one of the great archetypal narratives, but in both Macao and Where Is This Street?, the experience of this dislocation is so obscured and individualized one could say it is nowhere to be found in the movie, which seems, having etched a canonical mark upon Rocha’s legacy, to await the application of sociological or anthropological analysis to its images.
Published as part of Locarno Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 1.