Cartas da guerra
It was dawn and I was arriving from a journey. I opened the house front door and while I was walking to my bedroom I noticed that from inside of it echoed my wife’s voice: she was reading to our baby, still in her belly, a love letter.
That letter was part of a book that consisted of the full transcription of the letters written by a young doctor during his military service in Angola in the period from 1971 to 1973, in the peak of the Portuguese Colonial War. All letters were addressed to his pregnant wife who was waiting for him in Lisbon. The letters were overflowing with passion and disorientation: their lives had been brutally interrupted by a war that they barely understood, forcing them to leave behind the start of a shared life as a passionate couple and young parents.
The letters also described some of the five hundred men, mainly aged eighteen to twenty, which embarked with the author on an African odyssey in one of the worst war zones of that time.
The book is “António Lobo Antunes, D’Este Viver Aqui Neste Papel Descripto, Cartas da Guerra” edited by my friend Maria José Lobo Antunes and her sister Joana Lobo Antunes, daughters of the recipient of the letters who had expressed her will that they were to be published as a book after her death. And so that was done in 2005.
For the writing of the film script, Edgar Medina (the co-writer) and me undertook an intensive investigation. We interviewed former combatants who were “characters” of those letters and of the novels and chronicles where António Lobo Antunes approached his military service experience. We consulted hundreds of documents, photographs, field reports, military archives, etc. As we moved forward in the investigation we started to know more intimately some of the thousands of men who kept silent about their histories of the Colonial War because, deep down, very few would want to listen to them.
The film project LETTERS FROM WAR gravitates between the action of the young doctor and his battalion, his odyssey and misadventures and, in parallel, the off-screen reading of his letters that portray a kind of inner life. These two levels aren’t synchronous and establish a relation of complementarity between the brutality and inevitability of war and an attempt to “escape” to the life António had in Lisbon, close to his pregnant wife.
The film inherits the universe of the narrative of the book and a dramaturgy naturally arisen from the chronology of the letters, a reality that is fascinating and extremely cinematographic. Even the mail exchanged via the Military Postal Service, which is a central component of the film, is not actually a normal letter but an “aerograma”: a small yellow sheet of paper which was cut and folded so that after closed could become a postage-paid envelope offered by the Portuguese Airline (TAP) in order to promote the communication between the military men and their families.
The many characters appearing in the film give back a choral sense, which a collective history calls for. They could also have written the letters we hear in the background. In these characters we will feel the fraternity, the friendship and loyalty of the men and their enduring capacity to survive monstrous physical and psychological situations. And in that we will sense a country agonizing at the hands of a fascist regime.
Each one of these young men whose lives were amputated, as well as all the other 800.000 men who served in the Portuguese Army during the thirteen years of the war, left behind families, wives, fiancés, friends, lovers. An entire Country was silenced, and thus helped silencing an entire episode of its History. Making this film is also claiming the memory of this men and the infamy they were exposed to during and after the war. A claim that could be made also in memory of so many other innocent men throughout the world whose lives were destroyed by the stupidity of organized violence.
I already live with the faces and with the voices of the men who will be the characters, with the sound of the engines, the shaking of the zinc rooftops, with the African huts, the dances, and the wind that blows from the savannah to the bush. As I felt in the description by the writer and his comrades of war, I wanted some scenes to be developed in a brutal and astonishing way, and some sequences to be submerged in trance and agony. On the other hand, the film is overflowing with an admirable romantic and musical universe with songs from Portuguese stars from the 60s and 70s.
A wild love story, a tragic story of war, and a biographic film about the internationally most important Portuguese writer alive, all of these elements seem fascinating and exciting to me.
I now return to the bedroom where my wife, on the bed, reads the book of letters to the baby in her belly and I think that the last thing I would want, was our life to be as brutally interrupted as the life of this man and woman that I want so much to tell you about.
On a trip through Asia, he gets to Macau, where he directs and produces his first documentary.
He is then invited by EXPO98 to direct a second film.
A brief but remarkable passage through Angola in 2000, while working with the Elinga Theatre, wakes his interest for the country and for Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOPs) altogether, where he directs anthropological documentaries.
Besides shorts and documentaries, Ivo directed two feature films: APRIL SHOWERS in 2009, which premiered at the Rotterdam IFF and EM VOLTA (2002), presented at the Bangkok IFF.
He currently lives in Macau, P.R. of China, which is reflected in his former film ON THE DRAGON’s FLAKE made for Guimarães 2012 - European Capital of Culture.
LETTERS FROM WAR is his third feature film and biggest project so far.
2012 - NA ESCAMA DO DRAGÃO, short
2010 - O ESTRANGEIRO, short
2009 - ÁGUAS MIL
2009 - VAI COM O VENTO, doc
2006 - FIOS DE FIAR, doc
2004 - SALTO EM BARREIRA, short
2003 - À PROCURA DE SABINO, doc
2003 - SOIA DI PRÍNCIPE, doc
2002 - EM VOLTA
2001 - ANGOLA EM CENA, doc
1998 - O QUE FOI?, short
1997 - O HOMEM DA BICICLETA - DIÁRIO DE MACAU, doc
Cast & Crew
Directed by: Ivo M. Ferreira
Written by: Edgar Medina, Ivo M. Ferreira
Produced by: Luís Urbano, Sandro Aguilar
Cinematography: João Ribeiro
Editing: Sandro Aguilar
Production Design: Nuno G. Mello
Costume Design: Lucha D’Orey
Make-Up & Hair: Nuno Esteves
Sound Design: Ricardo Leal, Tiago Matos
Main Cast: Margarida Vila-Nova (Maria José), Miguel Nunes (António)
Nominations and Awards
- EFA Feature Film Selection 2016