"Montanha" by João Salaviza (PT)

​ Venice Film Festival 2015 - Critics' Week

Writer Profile



Name: Sabine Kues

Nationality: Germany

Contact: sabinekues@gmail.com

A male figure lies on a bed. Soft light falls on his naked back while the sound of the fan is heard, moving from left to right and right to left. The first of many beautifully constructed images from Portuguese director  João Salaviza introduces the spectator into a carefully fabricated visual world of Montanha.

After making a remarkable entrance into the film scene by winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes 2009 with his short film Arena, followed by the Golden Bear for Rafa at the Berlinale 2012, his first feature premiers in Venice during the International Critic's Week. Needless to say there are high expectations in regards to what this promising Portuguese director presents as his first feature-length film. He teams up again with cinematographer Vasco Viana who was equally responsible for his two award winning short films.

It is Viana's shots that truly tell the story of David, played by David Mourato, a young teenager in denial of the imminent death of his grandfather. The images speak already of the grandfather's absence, as we never get to see the man who initiates all these actions of lethargy. Best expressed is this “mobility of stagnation” in a long shot of a scene of bumper cars. David, his best friend Rafael and their common crush Paulinha are just passing time and so is the film. Visuals frame the story and they also frame the characters, as most images are sectioned in one way or another by door frames obscuring the view or objects which are rarely shown in their integrity. The same accounts for the personal bonds. While conversations taking place within the family or close circle of friends show both on screen, the connection to outsiders seems broken, as the teacher is never visible while appealing to David's conscience.

Though the images show an incredible attention to detail by working with light and partition of space, the story has to be mainly constructed by the viewer. There is more information to be found in every single shot than in the entire arc of the plot. Nevertheless, the bond between the camera and the protagonists is strong and confirm the director's intention: “In Montanha, perhaps more than in all the others, I managed a connection that I felt very deeply between the camera, as a vehicle for observation, and the bodies in front of me that are constantly changing.” Bodies in all forms, half naked in the heat of the summer in Lisbon, are moving in front of the camera and are frequently found intimately lingering on beds.

Carloto Cotta, recently starring in Miguel Gomes' Tabu, and also the protagonist of Salaviza’s Palm d’or Short film,  takes the role of the father of David's little sister. He makes a short entrance as another member of the family to whom the ties are broken but who is trying to win their affection. Mentioning an analogy between his development and the adolescence of David, Salaviza characterizes his first feature as the “end of [his] cinematic adolescence.” He battles for the affection of the viewer – but as always, when you want something that bad, it is not sure to happen.