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Culture
Review
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‘Pictures of Ghosts’: The emotional education of a great director and the future of cinema

Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho travels to the past in this melancholic and powerful autobiographical movie: from his mother’s house to the theaters where his love of cinema was forged

One of the cinemas in Recife (Brazil) in 'Pictures of Ghosts.'

Pictures of Ghosts is a thrilling journey into the past of a house — that of Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s mother — and of a city — Recife. Mendonça Filho shot his first films in the house, and in the center of the city, in its grandiose cinemas, he forged his love of movies. In Pictures of Ghosts, Mendonça Filho — the director of films such as Bacurau (2019) and Aquarius (2016) — delves into the foundations of a passion, both personal and collective, that today resists among the decadent buildings of a city that, like so many others, abandoned its cinemas.

Using archives from different periods, many of them home recordings and family and home photographs, as well as the trail of his own films — from his first amateur experiments to Neighboring Sounds (2012) —, the viewer gets to know the corners of an emotional map forged around the experience of cinema. Divided into three parts, this cinephile’s powerful memoir, as melancholic as it is vigorous and combative, begins with the story of the family home and its objects. In the second part, it continues in the street and the cinemas, or in their ruins, with their mysterious signs. Thus, through the eyes of one of the most exciting directors of today’s film industry, we get to know the ins and outs of the Art Palacio or São Luiz cinemas, which are almost monumental extensions of the maternal home. The director’s mother bought the apartment in 1979 when she separated from her husband. Inside this home, this historian — who died prematurely at the age of 54, the same age that Mendonça Filho is today — decided to transform her life. After her death, the director kept the home. Like any film lover, Mendonça Filho always welcomed the ghosts of the house.

The maternal home was the first stage, but the feeling of belonging transcended the family home and its neighborhood and spread to the downtown movie theaters, where the future critic and filmmaker went several times a week. Far from being a nostalgic or self-absorbed film, Pictures of Ghosts vindicates the power of cinema as a living and complete art. It also vindicates its role in the architectural and urban development that embellished cities inside and out. The story of Alexandre, the projectionist of the Art Palacio, is a real gem in a film that speaks of the passing of time and decline with tenderness and humor.

But, above all, Pictures of Ghosts is an apt review of a generation that was born with television and home cameras, but grew up with a love with movie theaters. Beyond a sepulchral fetishism that’s welcomed by the movie, Mendonça Filho vindicates the art of cinema, an art born out of the collective experience and whose commercial decline is a worrying reflection of society. The movie ends by showing how Recife’s movie theaters have been turned into evangelical churches, a powerful idea to understand this new world.

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