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Verão danado

[…] Without any narrative urgency to speak of, the film is a study of a very specific temporality, and not a psychological portrait of its charismatic protagonist

[…] If parties contain an unrivalled concentration of storytelling possibilities through the innumerable interactions between the party-goers – looks, touches, drunken conversations, flirting and falling in love, rejections and heartbreaks, all of these experiences being filtered and altered through many forms of drug use – it is very hard to recall a film that actually captures all of this in a cinematic language that is true to the characters and to the experience itself as well.

Pedro Cabaleira's Verão Danado is a beautiful, poetic and perhaps a bit overextended chronicle of an aimless youth in contemporary urban Portugal. It alternates between scenes of a daily routine with the characters going nowhere in particular, dinner parties filled with random conversations and flirtations, and most importantly, scenes of party sequences that are at once as intense, dissociative and real as anything we have seen since Hou Hsiao-hsien's Millennium Mambo. Without any narrative urgency to speak of, the film is a study of a very specific temporality, and not a psychological portrait of its charismatic protagonist, Chico, fresh out of school and without a job, who is played with intensity and remove by Pedro Marujo in his first film role. Even if he is the main character, Chico’s function is more that of a visual anchor, providing a semblance of narrative structure to a film containing more than a hundred distinctive characters, each of whom has a psychological nuance that express Cabaleira’s careful observation of human behaviour. The way someone lights a cigarette, the way they scan the room in search for someone who could interest them, the way they smile when they find that person, or just let their eyes shine, and, most of all, the way they dance and react to different rhythms and styles of music, to constantly changing coloured lights (out of which the film itself pulls its visual and aural dynamics). The editing alone took more than a year, and it shows, for example, in the way the film perfectly captures the specific rhythm of aimless youthful boredom and of the subsequent euphoria once the boredom has been spirited away by drugs, pulsating beats and human interaction.

The two long party scenes, each lasting well over twenty minutes and which constitute Verão Danado's thematic and aesthetic centrepieces, reflect in many ways the importance those nightly experiences taking over functional daytime interactions in the characters’ (unemployed) lives. If parties contain an unrivalled concentration of storytelling possibilities through the innumerable interactions between the party-goers – looks, touches, drunken conversations, flirting and falling in love, rejections and heartbreaks, all of these experiences being filtered and altered through many forms of drug use – it is very hard to recall a film that actually captures all of this in a cinematic language that is true to the characters and to the experience itself as well. This is even more impressive if one considers that Cabeleira never tries to convey the effects of the drugs (be it marijuana or ecstasy) via an overly heightened stylisation or distortion of the imagery. He succeeds, however, in expressing those effects with the editing alone, transporting perfectly the effects of the drugs on one's temporal experience onto the viewer, with the difference that, unlike the partiers, the viewer may even remember the various effects of near-transcendence on offer here, if perhaps in a somewhat diluted form. A film can hardly come any closer to the real experience.

It is tempting to read Verão Danado as a sort of treatise on Portugal's youth under the grips of the economic crisis plaguing most southern European countries at the moment. Indeed, some of the character's daily structures are defined by their lack of jobs or of significant future perspectives. “Party like there's no economic tomorrow”, their motto could be called. In one scene, Chico is about to attend a job interview for a presumably boring office job. On his way there, he meets a friend in a park. They smoke a joint, talk about how absurd it seems to have a job. The rhythm of the scene slows down and it becomes obvious that Chico won't make it to the interview. This may read as a scene that shows his complete lack of motivation to change anything about his current party-filled lifestyle, but it is also the sheer incompatibility of the fundamentally different temporalities that are displayed here. The flow is just not directed toward jobs for the moment. Maybe this will change, maybe it won’t; it is not really of any importance here. As much as Verão Danado is a film about the present moment, about a specific generation in a specific place, it is at the same time (maybe more importantly) an homage to the rhythm of the youth, falling in an out of love, dancing and to music, the summers full of life; summers that invariably, cursedly, always end.

Text: Dominic Schmid

First published: August 18, 2017

Verão danado | Film | Pedro Cabeleira | PT 2017 | 124’ | Locarno Festival 2017

Special Mention “Cineasti del Presente” at Locarno Festival 2017

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