AL BERTO is a film of its place. About one of Portugal’s most celebrated modern poets, it is set in Sines on the Portuguese coast. But it is of a different time. It is 1975 when 27 year old Al Berto returns to his small fishing village, a place where change comes slowly. The painter/poet is beautiful, passionate and free spirited but his kind of creative living is way too fast … even for a population newly freed from an authoritarian regime. AL BERTO explores freedom, political and personal, in a sensual, deliciously detailed film playing as part of Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival.
Al Berto has been away in Brussels for a few years training as a painter but, now drawn more to poetry, he returns to his family home. The old mansion has been seized by the forces of the Carnation Revolution but lies idle and unloved. Al Berto will pull around him a group of bohemians whose drinking and lifestyle cause trouble with the conservative townsfolk and he will fall deeply in love with band singer, João Maria.
The writer/ director of this film, Vicente Alves do Ó, is actually the younger half brother of João Maria, met the poet as a young man and the film is based on his brother’s writings. The film, though, is not a biopic. There are factual events but the intent is much more universal. Any audience can understand “Fairies Out” scrawled on a wall or locals with torches and a pitchfork mindset. “The world isn’t real unless a man cries!”
Plus the evocation of the 1970’s is superb. Universal displays of beards and curly hair and shiny caftans for boys. Body shirts and leather necklaces over hairy chests. Converses and frayed hem bellbottom jeans. And the women in early psychedelia print dresses and high waisted bikinis.
The women in the film are lovingly drawn. They are not simply there as ‘beards’ for the boys, we see into their lives. Despite having a little crush on Al Berto , Clara (Ana Vilela da Costa ) and Sara (Raquel Rocha Vieira), in trouble with her mother for her choice to be part of the Palace lifestyle, have a very filial relationship with the men at the centre of the story.
Ricardo Teixeira gives us an Al Berto who is vibrant and expressive and who confronts homophobic behaviour with a naive openness. He is radiant and restless. In one scene at the beach he constantly moves his hands across his torso plucking at wiry body hairs. And besotted by his lover played by José Pimentão. João Maria is also a writer but afraid to share and one fears, faithless. Beaten by his father and from a family torn, Pimentão’s João Maria is complex and moody.
Their sex scenes are suspiciously graphic and strikingly sensuous with many loving scenes of the men resting naked on each other. Often shot from above in a hot, summer haze after sex, the world of the lovers is intimate and dreamy.
There is a European sensibility to the film with long languorous shots and slow walks into frame but it is not overly ponderous. There are, though, lengthened sequences of beauty rich with emotion rather than story. Visually absorbing and with the stillness of thoughtfulness, there is a lightish blue cast to the filmstock … a faded denim tint and the visuals foreground that colour in ocean and exhaled smoke that envelops sad faces.
The sea is also evoked in the poetry which forms the core intellectual concern of the film. Baudelaire and George Sand and the French poets are evident in poetry and place. The verse is subtitled in French as the lyricism flows from the dialogue. There is quite a bit of overlapping dialogue and it keeps your brain engaged when following the subtitles. Though there is little music over the action, the ambient music is in English. It is psychedelic fare such as ACID NIGHTMARE by Xarhanga and TAKE MY PAIN AWAY by Moulinex and João Maria sings in English too.
But AL BERTO is all about the beauty of thought, of love and of place and time. It is a graceful, luxurious watch.
For more information about Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival visit: http://queerscreen.org.au/mardi-gras-film-festival-2018