AFTER THE NIGHT (ATÉ VER A LUZ)
A film by Basil Da Cunha
Cast : Pedro Ferreira, João Veiga, Nelson da Cruz Duarte Rodrigues, Paulo Ribeiro, Francisco Mota, Ruben Dias
Original version Creole (Portuguese based) Subtitles in English
Nearly 30 years ago, Basil Da Cunha was born in Switzerland from Portuguese parents. He studied cinema, shot some shorts shown in Cannes – La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs where he got a Special Mention. His debut AFTER THE NIGHT is again shot in the slums of Lisbon, Reboleira. Sombra is a “ghost” character out of prison. His only real friend is his pet iguana Dragon. Sombra is the kind of hero who knows that in the narrow streets of the ghetto, his time is dripping from the clepsydra. The gang, his family by proxy, doesn’t let him loose at nights...
E-correspondance with Basil Da Cunha for AFTER THE NIGHT
Bbldnrbtl: Whether with your short films NUVEM (Sunfish) or OS VIVOS TAMBEN CHORAM (The Living Also Cry), and now with your debut AFTER THE NIGHT (Até Ver A Luz), the (secret?) idea of running away, leaving, going somewhere else is omnipresent. Could you explain the feeling? Do you live in an emergent state of mind to be elsewhere or do you feel a foreigner wherever you are?
Basil Da Cunha: I think it’s very difficult to believe in this world for most of us. The idea of a better place is the only choice to those who feel a foreigner in their own country. To desire this idea is an act of resistance. To fight for it is an ode to freedom. A way to feel worthy above all.
Somehow, it’s a paradox because dreaming of being somewhere else is what outcast people do due to men being alienated by men. And this is the beauty of it. People who resist the funeral procession are heroes, however tragic it seems. Fronting a world that reject them or dismiss them is their only way out. A hope that life is elsewhere... one has to persevere in that path. No matter how you get there, it’s better than being a dead man walking or being submissive.
It’s a hopeless attempt with a bitter result, but it’s a one way path full of pitfalls. As for me, I don’t believe in what the world has to offer either but I have an unflinching faith in those who get up and chose freedom as their path. I do believe in man.
Bbldnrbtl: Your main character Sombra (Shadow) almost embodies the / a ghost. He almost acts by proxy or talks as if his own ventriloquist. He is like haunted by a vague memory that he has never lived in present (to remind a line from Jacques Derrida in Ken McMullen’s Ghost Dance). Could you say more about that character who haunts your films?
Basil Da Cunha: Sombra embodies a dead man walking, a convicted person whose path leads him to his end. He belongs to the past. When the world doesn’t reject him, it dismisses him anyway. He doesn’t exist or rather he doesn’t exist anymore. He is doomed and will disappear.
However, he is someone who endures most of the time but he manages to transcend himself. On one hand, there is a gang reality and its ghetto from which he is a prisoner and there is his own reality. From time to time, he “escapes” and I like to think he is very close to the Accattone of Pasolini and Meurseault from Albert Camus’ The Stranger. They are like his brothers. Misunderstood and imperfect.
Bbldnrbtl: Despite a real story and its non actors playing their own story, you chose to make a film with a narrative rather than shooting a cinéma vérité or documentary. What interests you in creation or improvisation? (here again, according to Derrida, cinema offers a ghostly approach when documentary doesn’t “cinema is the art of ghosts, the art to let ghosts come back” – from Ghost Dance)
Basil Da Cunha: I’m really into a magical cinéma réaliste. Reality is a starting point, that’s a fact, but dream can sublimate it. These people emanate from reality but they go beyond themselves and become characters. And then again, the narrative helps to entangle quite naturally tarmac and fantastical. That is the possibility to “get the ghosts back” from the past haunting characters who can’t forget their past because they are rooted in it. Somehow, it gives these characters an opportunity to float.
Most importantly, I love filming life, filming living things. So, there is no repetitive effect. The actors don’t read any script and we shoot in chronological order. Each scene has its own essence because actors can interfere in the initial idea but I also constantly “trap” them: I don’t want them to simply reproduce or imitate. The screen is their life, so the door is open for them to interact and for all of us to be “in danger”. We are all into improvisation. It is a meticulous organised chaos. While shooting or before or after, we drink, we smoke, we sing or we play cards. Even when the camera comes in and shoots, life is above the cinematographic machine. Having said that, every single part of the filming has been thoroughly thought because I need to guide them as well.
After The Night is out in cinemas / VoD from the 25th April
Bbldnrbtl: I wanted to know what is your relation with Voodoo, witchcraft or the occult since Sombra gets “de-possessed” and was the iguana your fetish / totem animal?
Basil Da Cunha: I know nothing about Voodoo apart from the sorcerers who live in the ghetto and come to my films. I respect this kind of stuff, but some of these dream sellers make me laugh. I do like the idea that dreams are as real as reality.
As for the iguana, there was this lad in the ghetto who had one and I wanted to use it in my previous short. I found it quite poetical. When he sold it, I had to look for a new one because I wanted it as a pet for Sombra... since I don’t really like dogs.
Bbldnrbtl: After The Night has a feel of Latin American underground gangsta films and I was wondering about your references?
Basil Da Cunha: I think our cinema is pretty naive. It’s hard to find a reference. Maybe the claro-oscuro from films noirs or Rubens, Marat. For sure, I feel very close to Pasolini or Fellini. Not only when watching their films, but also the way they were shooting. It was all about manipulation and a joint effort with people and a certain reality. There was a feel of generosity and they were always flirting with danger. I quite like Pedro Costa too, his way to deal with dialogues and lighting. I really like Michel Gomes for its total freedom. But the one above anybody, the king... is Akira Kurosawa. He is to cinema what Edgar Morin is to philosophy. He defied complexity.
Bbldnrbtl: At some point, Sombra gets shot in a disused warehouse. He escapes and found himself at night in a no-man land poorly lit landscape (somewhere between a Jim Jarmusch-Ed Rusha and Jeff Brouws’ tableau). The scene only lasts a few seconds and I felt frustrated... I wanted to escape the narrowing of the faces. What is your relation to landscape since they are many close-ups and the relation to drugs?
Basil Da Cunha: I didn’t see the point to film in situ. These close-up allow the viewer to enter a certain time space of the ghetto. As for the drug, it’s a backdrop in this film, like violence. I didn’t want these issues to take over the film. They act as pretexts.
Bbldnrbtl: What is the impact of your film on these people?
Basil Da Cunha: We are very proud of the film within the ghetto. It’s really beautiful to succeed in getting to the end of that adventure. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last one, but so far it’s the greatest. Especially that it was made with a shoestring budget and thanks to the gang. We are constantly learning and each film, my actors are getting even better. So... so far, all good.
After The Night (Ate Ver A Luz) is not quite La Haine, nor Viva Riva, nor City of God, but it surely is nearing the path of Pasolini, and if this is the path that Basil has decided to fool, we might be in for a treat.
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