Review: War (2020)

Surviving the war is just the first step in the life of a war veteran. One might argue that it is the easiest, or at least the least complex one. And life after the war can be very tricky, like a series of dreams, nightmares and futile attempts at “normality”. Portuguese veteran of the 20th century Colonial Wars is at the very centre of José Oliveira’s and Marta Ramos’ War that has just premiered at the Signals program segment of Doclisboa.

The best way to describe is the label of “docu-fiction” with additionally blurred lines between the documentary and the fiction. The protagonist Manuel Santos (played by José Lopes) is actually a composite of different characters from the war stories the actor, here also in the role of the screenwriter, collected avidly. His experiences, his routines, his memories, dreams and nightmares, as well as the relationships with his surroundings are the content of the film.

It is much less about the war, the particular war or the phenomenon of war, and more about the life that follows it. As Santos struggles to live on, he spends some time with his family, especially his school teacher son, he goes to the therapy, he goes to church and revisits the places in Lisbon that meant something to him in the past, he meets the old comrades or at least imagines meeting them. His suffering is visible throughout, he might not survive the life like this, but we, as the viewers, are more than willing to follow him on his journey and cheer for him in his fight.

War is by no means a narrative film, but more of a poetic experience. Some things in there feel staged, the others are quite realistic. The dialogues tend to grow into the series of monologues and poetry declamations. At times, War reminds of the work of Pedro Costa, especially Horse Money the directing duo quotes as one of their favourite films and an “involuntary influence”. There are similarities also on the “trivial” (the same production company Optec Filmes) and on technical level (the same cameras used).

Visually, War is mesmerizing to look at. Part of the credits goes to the cinematographers José Antonio Loureiro, Manuel Pinto Barros and Pedro Bessa whose steady camerawork works perfectly in the slightly longer takes. The meditative editing handled by the directing duo suits the film well, further blurring the lines between the “realistic” and the “real”. Finally, the sound scheme and the scarce, but perfectly timed use of music dictate the emotions for the viewer. In that department, the fact that fado signals a spark of a better mood is quite an achievement.

War might be exceptionally hard to define in any way. At times, it is not the easiest watch either, but it surely is intense. It is also rewarding: War is a genuine and powerful insight to the ghosts of war and long-standing trauma induced by it.

courtesy of Doclisboa

Original title: Guerra
Year: 2020
Runtime: 105’
Country: Portugal
Language: Portuguese
Directed by: José Lopes, Marta Ramos
Written by: José Lopes, José Oliveira
Cast: José Lopes, Dulce Pascoal, Daniel Pereira, Ana Alexandre, Fernando Castro, Antonio Soares, Luis Barbosa, Tiago Lucas
Cinematography by: José Antonio Loureiro, Manuel Pinto Barros, Pedro Bessa
Editing by: José Oliveira, Marta Ramos
Sound by: André Torres, Bernardo Theriaga, Bruno Garcez, Marcelo Tavares, Tomé Costa
Sound design by: Felipe Zenicola
Colourist: Vítor Carvalho
Produced by: Abel Ribeiro Chaves, José Oliveira, Marta Ramos
Production company: Optec Filmes (Sociadade Optica Tecnica)