23 MAY — 02 JUNE 2024

23 MAY — 02 JUNE 2024

Cineblog: On That Day in Lisbon — An arm wrestling muscle against oblivion

In 1940, thousands of European refugees arrived in Portugal, mostly Jews, hoping to escape the Nazi terror that was spreading across the continent at the time. Our country, on the edge of Europe, represented a temporary safe harbour, a crucial stop on the way to their true destination in America. More than 50 years later, some films from that same time were gathering dust in a corner of ANIM, until Daniel Blaufuks picked them up for his latest film, Naquele Dia em Lisboa, scheduled for one of the special screenings at the 20th IndieLisboa.

The images, which had already been catalogued and recorded, were therefore not recovered by the director, but rediscovered. Their origin is murky and little is known about them apart from the year and their author, director of photography and Oscar winner Eugen Schüfftan. Despite this award, he is best known for the special effects technique that he perfected and popularised in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), allowing actors to be inserted into tiny sets using a mirror, creating a cohesive image from these distinct elements. It’s interesting, therefore, to think of that same person recording the crowds in a Lisbon that was too small and adverse to accommodate them. It could be an illusion, but it’s the disbelief that war brings.

In view of this, the film immediately becomes important for the mere fact that it makes the archive accessible to the public. The gravity that has accumulated over the years makes it a historical monument, an element of our collective and perhaps even individual memory. Thus, treating the raw material as an essential muscle in the arm wrestling against oblivion, Daniel Blaufuks works it even harder.

IndieLisboa Cineblog: On That Day in Lisbon — An arm wrestling muscle against oblivion

On That Day in Lisbon © All rights reserved

Bruno Ganz’s voice appears as a thread through the images, in a narration that places the Portuguese viewer in a place foreign to their own. Alongside the visual force, we hear descriptions of our customs, our landscapes and, most importantly, of a reality that was unfamiliar to us. From our isolated position, be it geographical, ideological or social, we were not subjected to the need to escape the war, nor did we experience it in the same way as the rest of the continent.

What is most interesting, however, is the speed of the images themselves, manipulated to the point of dragging on in time. Slowing down is contemplation, the possibility of looking at different points and thinking about them in different ways. They look like haunted figures, startled by the knowledge we have today, moving, seemingly, frame by frame, in an unidentifiable whirlwind. Portuguese, refugees, points in time. The product is as melancholy and disconcerting as the piano that accompanies it, also underlined by the occasional colouring of the images, sometimes blue, pink or even semi-realistic, whose impact transports us to an even more distant point in the history of moving images.

This manipulation (an expression totally devoid of any negative connotation) is a favourite of the artist’s, as part of his exploration of the interstices of the image and video, leading him to distance his films from the very idea of cinema. At least the one many viewers assume they have. That is to say, motivated largely by a narrative. That’s why he likes the categorisation of “experimental”, not exactly from his perspective as a filmmaker, but as a possible experience for the viewer, who will be carried away by the challenge to pay attention, focus and imagine a distant reality. Who were those faces walking past that day in Lisbon?

Margarida Nabais

Article written in the context of the partnership between IndieLisboa and the Cineblog of the Philosophy Institute of NOVA/FCSH.