Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Having established his blend of folktale with folks' tales in the first part, Gomes amps up the mix with a tighter weave and more compelling narrative. We follow the flight of a fugitive through open country as he is pursued by drones and mounted police but gets in a few legend-building encounters along the way. A beautifully staged trial takes place in an open amphitheatre with a case that unfolds from a simple confessed misdemenour to a massive series of crimes of opportunity in which the entire assembled public seems to be culpable. And, finally, a dog's eye view of the intertwined lives of the dispossessed in a huge council housing complex. If Volume 1 was a raw statement of the state of Gomes' native Portugal in the numbing wake of the GFC than Volume 2 is here to cleanse with comedy and anger with awareness.

Immediately, Gomes' use of the living landscape and the place of the people who tread it reminds us of the powers he showed in his magnificent Tabu. It is a novelist's rather than a painter's landscape, though, as we see the fugitive Simao Without Bowels interact with it as a wrongdoer, shelter seeker, patriarch and hostile agent. His own knotty, lived-in face is as much part of the land as the animals he encounters and the farming people he bullies but must rely upon. We don't just admire the scenery, we are part of it. Scheherezade's narration, continuing from the first volume, guides us through.

We are similarly drawn into the court case sequence that forms the middle section by a series of quick reveals that alert us to our own assumptions. These are too good to spoil but they lead on to the female judge finishing that opening through her side of a phone call in which she doles out some severe pragmatic advice to her daughter. The judge then turns to her curious court composed of casually dressed contemporary citizenry in masks. Gomes shoots this very conventionally, allowing us to see what we need to to follow the increasingly complex web of misdeeds that engendered those whose accounts precede them. This straightness of approach is necessary as before we know it we are not just listening to testimony from ordinary people but that of genies, cows, thieves who seem to have escaped from a Goya painting, and onward to greater and more fantastic as the backward flow of cause and effect seems to exonerate one miscreant by the gravity of the deed that compelled it. While at times this threatens to collapse into cuteness it is never allowed to as we understand how thin the divide between the farce and grim reality: the masks aren't there to conceal but reveal.

Finally, in the housing complex, we follow Dixie the poodle and her owners, an ageing couple who are ready with gossip and observation for any who can lend an ear. We hear and see the stories of a large range from their neighbours' lives, a quirk here, a tragedy there and more particoloured folly than you could fit into a Renaissance bookplate, and we see the amiable and blameless Dixie, beloved and loyal, handed between owners as their circumstances fail them and her. Dixie's final encounter with companionship is delivered with the same poker-faced sentimentality that coursed through Tabu and like that, it works wonders. We don't need to cry, the judge already told us why, and we don't. We're allowed a little sadness but, mostly, a frown of recognition.

As I followed this far more digestible volume in the trilogy I noted how much it had in common with what I like about the best of Bela Tarr's films, the sections of Satantango or Werckmeister Harmonies that wrested me from my cinema seat and cast me into the picture. I felt no more ashamed of remembering my frequent boredom with the first volume two nights before (it is subtitled The Restless One) than I was at some of the more interminable long takes Tarr commanded me to endure so I could experience everything. That is, what Gomes wants us to do here, experience everything. With reservations I'll say I'll try.

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