I‘m currently working as a programme assistant for Inquietudo, a new film festival dedicated to the lusophone world that will take place in TopKino Vienna between 26-31 May 2015. One of the best parts of my work is watching the submitted films and discussing them with the team.
A few days ago I watched Contos sobre a cegueira (Tales on blindness) directed by Cláudia Alves (2014, Portugal/India, 107 minutes). It is meant as a documentary which explores the vestiges of the Portuguese colonisation in India.
This intention is fulfilled in the beginning of the film, as an Indian man recounts the period of the colonial occupation to the camera. We learn that Portuguese is taught in schools and sympathize with the students’ efforts of exercising funny dialogues during the language class. On their quest they also get the chance to assist to an Indian wedding. The denotative aspects are interesting enough for the outsiders (the ceremony, costumes, music, food served). Some background information is offered by the director’s driver, who explains that most marriages are arranged (his included), and women are required to be submissive to men. Still.
But slowly the intended documentary is turning into a travelogue. The directors just follow their local guide, a guy paid to show them around whatever he considers interesting and relevant. They are turning from documentarists into tourists, reduce their questions, investigate less and instead let themselves be carried away by the scenery and the people. And that’s understandable, I also got easily distracted by the artistic photography, the games of the kids in the streets. But as a tourist you don’t really experience the authentic lifestyle of the guest country and its people, but rather the ‘market-version’.
I was brought back to earth towards the very end of the film, when the focus set on a nationalistic Indian man who criticizes the lassitude of his people and instigates them to „stand up for your rights […] your flag“, to preserve and defend their culture and values. This gives rise to a debate between the filmmakers and himself, which could have been explored more.
The conclusion that Alves reached is that „there is a common blindness on both sides: oriental and occidental“ and Contos sobre a cegueira works as a „reflection about the limits of our comprehension of reality.“ (director’s statement) The philosophy behind it is indeed interesting: “How stories we tell ourselves can be imprecise and true at the same time.“
In any case, the form of the film is definitely a plus. In exploring the relation Portugal–India, east–west, past–present, tradition–modernity, she splits it in 6 chapters, each corresponding to an anatomical part of an elephant mentioned in the opening legend.