The Last Time I Saw Macao. (Portugal, 2012, Directors: João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata). Visit viff.org for full schedule.
THE MOVIE IS FICTION, BUT IT DIDN'T START OUT THAT WAY.
João Pedro Rodrigues headed to Macao, China, in the hopes of shooting a documentary.
The non-fiction film would centre around the childhood memories of João Rui Guerra da Mata, Rodrigues' long-time art director, who grew up in China's gambling haven.
"We got funded in Portugal to make a documentary about Macao; which was basically about João Rui's memories or places where he had lived and how they'd changed during the years. . . . We started from that," Rodrigues explains.
Over a period of three years the duo spent six months in the city. "People go there mostly to gamble, it's kind of a Las Vegas of the Far East," Rodrigues explains.
As the economy continues to nosedive in Portugal and the rest of Europe, many Portuguese workers looking for a fresh start have also arrived in Macao, according to Rodrigues.
While shooting what would become the documentary portion of the film, the filmmakers found Guerra da Mata's old house, his school, the market where he shopped, and the beach he frequented.
Rodrigues has spent most of his life in Lisbon, Portugal, and says he couldn't resist exploring his country's former colony, and venturing to the places Guerra da Mata never knew.
"We got lost in the labyrinth of the city," Rodrigues remembers. "This film took a different direction. It was as if the city was telling us stories and we had to listen to those stories."
That departure led to a unique film that includes real footage of Guerra da Mata's exploration of his old neighbourhood, but with a paintball murder and a woman named Candy rounding out the cocktail.
Following his impulses may be what led Rodrigues to his career as a filmmaker.
While he was initially intrigued by ornithology and devoted to science, Rodrigues' plans changed on the way to the movies.
"When I was 15 I started going very much to the cinematheque. There's a very good cinematheque with a very good program in Lisbon . . . and I became obsessed by cinema, I think," he says.
"When I went to university to study biology I already knew that was truly what I wanted to do. . . . I wanted to make films out of the pleasure of seeing them."
The teenager devoured movies from around the globe, ranging from the French comedy Mon Uncle, to perhaps Rodrigues' favourite film, the Hollywood noir masterpiece, The Night of the Hunter.
Travelling to Macao for the first time, Rodrigues' expectations were shaped by the 1952 film about the city.
"There's a film by Josef von Sternberg called Macao, it's kind of a thriller/film noir and that was also one of the starting points of our film," Rodrigues says.
But while the Sternberg film attempted to create a real Asian city on a Hollywood backlot, Rodrigues attempted to make a fictional town stitched together with the fabric of the real city.
"It's about a real place, but it's as if it wasn't a real place," he explains.
The finished film is the result of a clash of fiction, according to Rodrigues, who co-directed the film with Guerra da Mata.
"It made sense for us to co-direct this film because João Rui lived in Macao when he was a child . . . and so he remembered Macao from his childhood, so he had childhood memories, which are, in a way, fictions," Rodrigues explains. "Myself, I had never been to Macao until the first time we went there to shoot the film, and so I just knew Macao from cinema, from literature, from paintings, from photos. And so I also had a fictional Macao in my head. The film came from this crossover of two fictions."
Rodrigues is a jury member of the Dragons and Tigers category of the Vancouver International Film Festival, and will cast a vote to award $5,000 to a new director from Pacific Asia.
The winner will be announced Oct. 4 after press time.