Berlinale review: Jack’s Ride (2021)
Joachim Veríssimo is going to retire in three months but in order to get his unemployment benefit he must show that he is ‘actively seeking employment’. So far, so I, Daniel Blake. But far from raging against the political establishment or despairing over the decline of industry in his native Portugal, Joachim goes patiently from place to place, collecting his forms, dressed splendidly and wearing an extraordinary Elvis helmet of blue black hair. As he does so he reflects on his life, and especially his experience as an illegal immigrant in the United States.
The germ of Susana Nobre’s film was planted when she worked for the New Opportunities Programme, an adult education initiative that sought to reskill part of the aging population. And yet the documentary that came from this encounter sidesteps any social agenda as such. In some ways it is an investigation more on the work of memory and this can be seen in the many meta-effects Nobre employs. In this it feels as if it takes its tone from the character of its subject. Joachim’s officially sanctioned meandering sees him quite enjoying the task, pootling about the beautiful countryside, chatting with people, taking care of an old army buddy who’s gone blind, having a look in shop windows, perhaps to replenish his splendid wardrobe.
But it’s when Nobre recreates Joachim’s time in New York that she aims for something more experimental. Like many immigrants, Joachim worked several jobs – “I never saw my son with his eyes open” he complains – before settling for a long stint as a driver. To provide the flashback we have Joachim reenact the scene, with New York now a back projection. This is not just the way memories become our own movies but with its grainy 16mm it’s a movie from the 70s. The idea of using subjects to recreate scenes from their lives is not particularly innovative – Joshua Oppenhemier’s TheAct of Killing (2012) is probably the most immediate example that springs to mind though to completely different ends – but here the technique seems particularly apt as Joachim is already something of a performer. When he replays a confrontation with an Irish-American friend who reneged on a loan, he plays a sub-Scorsese tough guy. Nobre’s decision to include herself filming some of these scenes hints at her own responsibility for framing Joachim’s memories filmically. This is how we want to frame his stories as well.
Part road movie, part character portrait, Jack’s Ride depends a great deal on the quiet charisma of its subject. The man didn’t do anything particularly remarkable. As a chauffeur, he had some famous clients – Muhammad Ali and Jackie Kennedy – but a name dropping cabbie is hardly riveting. Ultimately, the Ride of the title comes to take on a Bill Hicks definition of Life being “all a ride”. As he faces retirement, and the strong hint at his own mortality, there’s a resilience and courage in the dignity with which he pursues his final administrative task. Modern Portugal might not have any more space for, or need of Joachim, but he’s still there, part of the landscape and community. And the world is richer for it.
Producer: João Matos
Written/ Directed by: Susana Nobre
Cinematographer: Paulo Menezes
Sound: João Gazua
Art Director: Nádia Henriques
Editing: João Rosas, Susana Nobre
Sound Editing/ Sound Mix: Hugo Leitão
Colour Correction: Paulo Menezes
Production Director: Emídio Barbosa