After having had its first festival bow at the 2016 Curtas Vila do Conde Film Festival, Diogo Costa Amarante’s latest short film, “Cidade pequena” (“Small Town”) had its international premiere at this year’s Berlinale where it snatched the Golden Bear for Best Short Film, thus further reinforcing the current trend that shows the strength and subsequent success of the Portuguese short-form Cinema. “Cidade pequena” is a charming short film that sees the world through the eyes of six-year old Federico and with which the Portuguese director composes a kind of rural poem about the moment when a young boy discovers the presence of death, the finite characteristic of life, and the physical, random and uncontrollable matters that determine the presence of life on Earth.
One day, at school, little Federico learns from his teacher that bodies are made up of a head, a trunk, and limbs and that people die when their hearts stop beating. That night, he cannot sleep. He wakes his mother up several times through the night and complains of chest pains. The next day, his mother asks the teacher once again: must children always be told the truth?
In a series of exceptional, colorful tableaux, Costa Amarante illustrates the emotional world of Federico and his mother, in order to present, with an eclectic narrative, a blurry and dreamy world in which the notion of death has only just began to form. Indeed, the short is filled with cloudy childhood memories… These tableaux bypass the depiction of everyday life but border the surreal through small visual manipulations. In that, the film stands on the edge between reality and fantasy as it explores a newly discovered realm where this newly acquired sensibility and consciousness regarding death sets in motion the destruction of innocence. Costa Amarante starts his film with his nephew and a dialogue of different voices so as to tackle a sort of fictional autobiography that comes to life through pictures of his childhood town. Moreover, taking into account that the cast is made up of the director’s closest family members, the short also plays with perception, being both fiction and documentary at once. Furthermore, the narrative refers to Costa Amarante’s own subjective attitude towards storytelling itself: “Words don’t come easy, to me, how can I find a way, to make you see, I love you”. In “Cidade pequena”, nothing is obvious, and everything is handled in a subtle manner, as if the author were searching for an answer to the question he poses, both in the narration and the framing. Halfway through the film, F.R. David’s song “Words” illustrates actually this particular cinematic challenge: How do we make the audience see, without words, something that cannot be explained? And the same goes for death, time, fear, innocence, love…
“Cidade pequena” is, indeed, at once an edifying question and suggestion. It is both specific and allegorical and shows, in that sense, the perfect convergence of beauty – the discovery of death by a child – and a radical aesthetic experience – the format of the screen. From the first frame, Costa Amarante knew what he wanted to show: the first image is a nod to Mantegna’s painting, “The Lamentation of Christ,” and he puts his nephew in this format to talk about death, with such a strong pictorial reference. This is a bold and brilliant choice.
Therefore, with this very special short film, Diogo Costa Amarante has definitely become a director to watch! And, make sure to watch him…
Production: Curtas Metragens C.R.L. (Portugal, 2016)
Producers: Diogo Costa Amarante, Miguel Dias
Director: Diogo Costa Amarante
Screenplay: Diogo Costa Amarante
Cinematography: Diogo Costa Amarante
Music: F.R. David, Beethoven
Editing: Diogo Costa Amarante
Cast: Federico Costa Amarante, Mara Costa Amarante
Color – 19 min.
Premiere: July 2016 (Curtas Vila do Conde)