After making several short films, this is your first feature. You have chosen a very difficult story for your first feature film, because Mia Couto’s writing is highly fantastical. How did this project come about and what was the cinematic idea behind it?
I got the idea for this project as soon as I read the book. But firstly I need to explain my relationship to Mia. I love his stories and I think they are very cinematic. He writes with images; his work is full of images. I’m not a scriptwriter, I’m a new filmmaker, a beginner, so that helped. I love these stories, I love his blend of reality and the fantastic. I like his humour – there’s a lot of humour, of satire in all his stories – the things that are beneath the surface, the different levels, the different layers of the stories; I like working with all these elements. I made three shorts based on his stories too. It was a long-term project. I was planning to make three or four or more shorts before making a feature, all of which based on his stories, in an attempt to show the country, taking different stories to show different elements of contemporary Mozambique, modern, urban Mozambique, inside the country, the villages, the people, choosing different moments of the country’s history, and making short films about this. But this feature came along before I had made all the shorts I would have liked to have made. I read the book and loved it. It was a very special moment for us as a people in Mozambique because we were emerging from a very long war; the peace agreement was the moment when the United Nations arrived and there was all the hope, all the new visions of what Mozambique could become now that the war was over. But at the same time, life is not that simple, not that linear, and things don’t just suddenly go well. We are still having problems, we have corruption, the State has made a lot of bad commitments; those are the things that move me. I try to talk about these issues in a way that is not a statement, but a movie that people can enjoy, a thriller. It was all these characteristics that drew me to this story. I agree that it’s a very difficult subject if you know the book, but we focused on its thriller dimension. We used the thriller, which is an investigation, and in the middle of this investigation, things happen, and those things are probably more important than the investigation; they mean more, and that’s the way we chose to use it.
How did you go about working on the script?
I’m not a scriptwriter. I had made a short with a Portuguese friend, Gonçalo Galvao Teles, who is a scriptwriter. We decided to work together. We looked at the book, we selected the parts of the story we wanted to use, and we worked closely on the script to construct the story. In the end, Mia participated a little; we asked him what he thought as Mia is the author of the story. He gave us some clues. We worked on the script for a year to a year and a half; we sent it to some people, we got some reviews, we sent it to a script doctor who made some cuts here and there, who made some suggestions, and we finalized the script. It’s pretty short. By the end of the movie we finally cut five or six scenes, that’s all.
The story is very interesting, because it’s ultimately about the connection between the North and the South, in terms of cultural confrontation. The character Massimo is confronted with an incredible situation. In the beginning he’s very rational, but this approach doesn’t work; he realizes that if he wants to solve the case, he has to really enter into it.
Yes, that’s the idea, because the solutions for the problems we have need to be found with us. Nobody comes with solutions; it’s impossible. You can come with money, you can come with equipment, you can come with technology, you can come with all of that, but if people don’t understand one another, if they don’t believe this is what the movie is about, belief, the dream. We need to dream, we need to dream of something, of peace, of a better life, of love, or whatever. Something has to move us, to make us move. That’s what the film is about, so the relationship between these two guys is a metaphor; they undertake a journey. Massimo needs to understand the other, he needs to understand the culture of these people, to understand what is behind everything, because everything exists because of something. So this is the journey he tries to understand. For him, everything is very rational; he takes pictures, carries out a crime scene kind of investigation, interviews people, takes their picture, compiles reports, but in the end he understands that it’s not that simple. Other things happen, and through the relationship with the translator, who doesn’t translate words for him, because he understands Portuguese, but translates facts, the life because he’s local, he’s from there, it’s also the struggle between powers, the symbolism of powers: traditional powers, political power, religious power, the power of the people, what they are and how they can be related. We have to understand all that. In the beginning, after Independence, the ruling party in Mozambique virtually made a law saying that the traditional power doesn’t exist. But traditional power is the one that is respected by the people. The party replaced the local chiefs with people from their circles, they sent administrators who didn’t understand the culture or the people and that wasn’t very well accepted by the people, because people want to speak in their language, they want somebody who knows who lives here, who lives there, who is the son of who, and these political guys didn’t know anything about it. Now it’s changing. Now they have understood the importance of having local people involved in decision-making. Now it’s almost the other extreme; they don’t do anything without involving the traditional leaders, even if just for voting, for having token people present, because they understand these people’s importance. That’s also what the film is about: power, the UN, this super-power that comes to solve all our problems, but that knows nothing about our country, our villages. They can study all this in a book, but they don’t understand how people sit, how people eat, how people dance. The movie is about all these things; I know that’s complicated!
So Joachim is not just a translator, he’s an interpreter; he has to interpret this reality, this fantasy. The women play an incredible role in the movie. They are always changing; they are never real; beautiful bodies suddenly transform into old women, and so forth.
Yes. Our culture is always related to machoism; people see Africans’ machoism, the power of the man, the man is the owner, the man makes the decisions, but in reality the women work hard. African women work hard while the men drink and sleep and talk. Who goes to the fields, who deals with the home, who takes care of the children, who carries them? It’s the women. That is another form of power. It’s the power of the women. There are three women in the movie. Each one represents a style. One is very stylish, she’s the wife of the big man and acts like the big woman dressed in very fancy things, but in the end turns out to be a woman with a heart, who is able to forgive, to deal with the prostitute who was sleeping with her husband. In the end, she changes, she understands the complexities of life. Then there is the prostitute, who is the most cosmopolitan, who incarnates the power of the entrepreneur, the woman who tries to live anywhere, and she knows men, she knows how to manipulate, how to use her body which is the only tool she has to survive, and in the midst of all that, she can see people for what they are, she has a political view of things, she’s strong enough to make a commitment. She says so many Mozambicans have died and nobody cared, but that now that three or four few UN soldiers have gone and exploded, everyone’s coming to see what’s going on and to investigate; but when millions, hundreds of Africans and Mozambicans die blown up by mines and in wars nobody cares. The third woman is more mythical, the woman that everybody dreams to have, the beautiful woman.
Was the film difficult to finance?
Yes, it was. But you know, we tried to get the budget to fit the movie, and that was difficult. We managed to get the most difficult funds and to match them. We got funding from Euro Image, Ibermedia, the CNC, ACP, Fonds Sud, Gothenburg; all of these combined gave us a good budget, but it was hard work. Even today, the movie is finished and we are still fighting with all these funds, because the paperwork is very complicated. From the initial idea for the film and approaching a producer to today, it’s been eleven years, which is not bad because some movies, even big ones, take longer. Production-wise, we’re talking about six years. From the first agreement, the first bit of funding till now, it’s been six years. It was more a production struggle than a creative struggle. Using all these producers too; one from Brazil, another from Italy, another from Spain, another from Portugal, another from France and me in Mozambique; it was hard work, but it was the only way we could manage to put the budget together. If I’d been alone with one of these countries only, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get this kind of budget. I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the movie, but next time I will make a movie with whatever I’ve got, just to relax and make a movie and not worry about contacts, and accounts and all that pressure. If I have 100 000, I’ll make a movie with that. If I have 400 000, I will do a movie, in a different perspective.
The music is by Omar Sosa. How did you work with him to create the music for the film? Did he see the movie first then write the score?
It was a strange coincidence, because I wanted to use an original music. I have done so for all my movies, so it’s part of the process, having the music as part of the movie. If you listen carefully, the sound effects are in fact the music. We used foley to replace some sounds, but the effects are all created by the music; they are musical chords, not sound effects. We did that work together. Omar Sosa is Cuban but he basically lives in Spain today. I met him in Cuba when I was studying at the film school. We got together later on this project and it was a great collaboration. We were preparing to make the movie and we sent him the script, we discussed it, we talked, we went through a creative process in the studio, we watched scene by scene, and we decided which way to go. It was a very good and creative process. He sent us his music later. I couldn’t be with him always, but I was with him twice at different moments and worked hard on the music with him making it happen in the moment, taking scenes from the movie and playing live and seeing what emerged. It was amazing. He’s a very good musician, known in Spain and throughout the world. He’s recorded a lot of CDs, toured from Africa to America. So it was an honour to have him on board.
One final question: you are in charge of Mozambique’s archives?
That was before, but I am still very interested in that area. I have stayed close to the National Film Institute; I follow what they are doing. The National Film Institute has been working on a project with Portugal to recover the archives. A Mozambican and Portuguese team are cleaning up, changing the film cans, organizing the shelves, classifying the archives. They’ve already been working on this for a year and have managed to transfer five documentaries from after independence onto DVD. They weren’t really very well produced, but they have been published, they are available in the street, they are selling, they are distributing the DVDs.
Do you mean The Kanema?
Kuxa Kanema, made by the National Film Institute. No, not the Kuxa Kanema; they were 10 to 15-minute newsreels. I’m talking about documentaries made at certain moments of history: independence, ten years after independence, after Samora’s death; five titles that have been released now. They haven’t been restored, just put on DVD. The sound isn’t very good, etc. but it is a way of getting them on the street and I think that’s very good. I’m also a TV manager – I manage a TV in Mozambique – and we are broadcasting them now. Such images were never available until now; they were always difficult to get access to. Now they are allowing people to use that stuff; that’s very good.
You have direct experience of that, because you produced Margarida Cardoso and her film on independence.
Yes. I produced her fiction A Costa Dos Murmurios (The Murmuring Coast).
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