The critical success last year of Miguel Gomes’ Tabu (2012) and fresh appreciation for the works of Pedro Costa and Raoul Ruiz has seen Portuguese cinema quietly re-introducing itself on the festival circuit. Continuing this trend, João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata’s The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012) opens with a magnificent dance routine set in front of caged tigers, before venturing down a rather more ambiguous course. The last Chinese outpost to be handed back to its owners, Macao was previously a Portuguese administrative region. Once a gateway to the East, it’s now a monument to the West.
Sound and narration play out on separate planes to the imagery on-screen, forcing us to question if what we’re witnessing is happening, or if these visuals are merely pictures from a crime scene? Similar to Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (in cinemas this week), this meditation on Macao examines the role that memories play in our lives and how often we distort our own history to appease our guilt. However, instead of searching for a biological father, our unseen protagonist (the whole film is told through what appears to be first person perspective) is used to mirror Portugal’s own sense of colonial guilt.
Before our eyes, the documentary transforms from a noirish mood piece into a cinematic memoir for a lost and sadly forgotten world. Once an important Portuguese Eastern outpost, our narrator struggles to find a single soul who now speaks his native language. Despite three generations of Portuguese rule the city’s scars are finally beginning to heal, leaving Rodrigues and da Mata’s The Last Time I Saw Macao a rather sad ode to a world now drifting out of sight.
The 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 19-30 June, 2013. For more of our EIFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.