Wednesday, 19 March 2008

João César Monteiro - God's Comedy.

Image courtesy of The DVD Beaver where you can purchase the films of Monteiro.

João César Monteiro is possibly my favourite filmmaker of all time, I named my youngest son after him, César. He is one of the few directors whose complete, and I mean absolute complete works are available in a box set, feature films and shorts. João is also one of the few major Portuguese filmmakers, alongside the oldest active filmmaker in the world and one of the most prolific, Manoel de Oliveira (99 years old with one film in pre-production this year and another in production).

João César Monteiro, no longer alive, is probably more interesting a filmmaker as far as where he went with the New Wave cinema.

The premise for God's Comedy is about a man called João who runs an ice-cream parlor where he has created an Ice-Cream called "Paradise" which is extremely popular. Now, he becomes attached to a fifteen year old girl played by Claudia Teixeira and perversely awed by her also. In inviting her to take a milk bath he plans on draining the milk and turning it into an ice-cream flavour. The result of his lechery incidentally leading to a brutal punishment but not an ending to the man himself. João César Monteiro as Max Monteiro plays João de Deus, if you can figure that out.

João's use of a heteronym reminds me so of one of my favourite writers, Fernando Pessoa, also Portuguese, who had loads of these characters he assumed when writing, they would even respond to each other, and so a dialogue with the self takes place over and over again. I can see elements of Pessoa strongly reflected in João's work.

I watched some of his shorts, and they all seemed to be a different take on the same film. I believe this heteronym appears as the actor in quite a few of João's films when it is he playing the title role.

"God's Comedy" is a follow-up to "Recollections of the Yellow House" which I have not seen yet but think this a marvelous way to sequel a film, imagine a film which does not set-up its ending to have a sequel but finds itself having one. João creates imagery, in cinemascope, that is set like when you look at an object with-out the context of its name, rather it just as an object in itself. A chair isn't called a chair it just is what it appears as.

Then he breaks that. In one scene we see João ordering some fish, the woman guts and scales them for him, then on one of the icy buckets that contain the rows of these fish, a cat is nibbling away, the woman who up until noticing the cat has been in discussion with João about cookery with fish, it is mouth watering discussion as we see the delights from the see on their beds of ice, but as soon as she catches the kitty's meal ticket, she shouts "Get away cat! Go and lick your mother's cunt!" -Instantaneously the mood has shifted and the hilarity of life's vulgar truths smiles back at us "cunts, cats, mothers, fish, ice" and all.

I'm not saying these things are vulgar by the way, I'm making a statement that arses are lovely, sexy things, until they fart. Then they become comic or crude. The issue with Max being attracted to young girls is not morally challenged until the end, and Max is in no way a demonised figure, indeed as with Humbert in Lolita we become endeared to his nature, its fine comic edge and frank exposure of his tastes. One of which for Max is collecting female "pubic hair" in a book he calls "The Book of Thoughts".

This behaviour doesn't sour our reaction to him, even when he is challenged by the father of the girl; there is casualness about his demeanor that is comforting rather then unsettling. In one scene he tears the anus of one of his employees whilst having sex with her in the ladies toilets. The consensual dalliance is almost a satirical undertaking of desire, as afterwards their rather 'diplomatic' handling of the situation leads to João handing her a mirror to check the tear whilst he goes to fry fish. There is definitely an Apollinaire perfume to João's work, absurd only because life can put it there on the screen, it is otherwise frighteningly conventional.

For me he is what Jerzy Kosinski might have been had he devoted his eccentricities to the screen rather then to his personal life and the media. "God's Comedy" has a "kicking a can and coming across a vaginal juice clumped g-string buried in the hole of a broken Stradivarius on the side of a road somewhere - obvious that some people have had a fiddle" kind of feel. There is also perhaps a touch of cross-pollination from Dante's "Divine Comedy" as João interprets divinity as an entirely different principle, one which society deems as 'depravity'. Although his character is aware of this as his obsession is stated as 'venom'.

It is said that João César Monteiro creates cinema, in that many of his scenes are fruitful accidents waiting to happen, and that I guess is where I make the Apollonaire distinction, drawing a line from Alfred Jarry's conception of Pataphysics and its relationship to exceptions to a more primitive form of absurdism.

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