a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman


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Pressentimentos, figuras, apariçoes, desenhan, no ar, as suas formas incendidas…
As árvores falam, no ermo, e a noite parece ouvir as árvores…
extáticos vultos montanhosos esculpem a face da distância,
marejada de estrelas.
Há rastos de almas na paisagem…

Teixeira de Pascoaes

Lois Patiño’s films exist less in the realm traditional filmic interventions and more in the tradition of landscape painting and photography. He relies on structuralist methodology – forefronting film and video apparatuses, lenses and filters; unmotivated zooms and/or “still” shots from stationary cameras; manipulation of film and/or digital information through exposure (or under-exposure) and selective manipulation. In short, making the viewer manifestly aware of the ways and means of production. But with his magnificently composed and downright luscious shots, he adds a mysticism and reverie to his films that draw directly from German Romanticism. Countering the anti-human, anti-artist, anti-creative impulses of structuralism, Patiño brings a welcoming – and sometimes counter-intuitive – human element to his filmwork that puts his films within a tradition (think Caspar David Friedrich, Michael Snow, James Benning) that he’s working through with intellectual and filmic rigor.

Noite sem distância (Night Without Distance) begins with a poem by Portuguese modern mystic poet, Teixeira de Pascoaes. It concludes with the line, “There are trails of souls in the landscape.” Here begins Patiño’s document/fiction of a night in the Gerês Mountains that straddle the border of Portugal and Galicia. Historically this a place where the economies of small villages exist because of smuggling. Patiño follows a nocturnal smuggling operation. There is almost no action. There is the sound of wind and water and whispering voices. It is all shown in negative, with stunningly unreal and intense colors. It is profoundly evocative.

NSD02Where’s Waldo?

The first challenge of Noite sem distância is distinguishing the people, the lone hidden smugglers standing stock still, some with rifles, hiding among rocks and trees, keeping their silence, among the landscapes, lightly animated by shivering leaves in the constant wind and the sounds of nighttime noises. A series of shots highlight the players in this silent drama, each in their position for the task at hand. A hushed conversation or two from unmoving figures, break up the night for brief seconds, only to return to stillness. A sheet (a flag?) flapping in the wind, two women nearby, in front of a stone wall signals the border of the village. The village is a asleep apart from a couple of dogs, sheep and men standing, watchful, intent. The action, if that what you can call it moves down to a river, down to the Portugal side, where men wait quietly. Somewhere along the way we see the loot, signifying bags of stuff, hidden in a crevice in some rocks. But in negativland, the bags are clearly visible, glowing with power and value. In a moment, there’s movement. From the river up to the village. Signals are passed from flashlight to flashlight from lookout positions scattered throughout this landscape. In the village, men leave their positions. Mission accomplished. The women push take down the sheet. Back to stillness. A long shot of rock-strewn hillside suddenly becomes animated by figures coming out from their hiding places and moving slowly up the mountain. To black. The blackness of the screen.


The landscape hides the living and its ghosts. The night, like in the Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, reveals its mysteries only to those attuned to it, which the negative eye of Patiño’s camera has special privileges. Not only commerce, but history, takes place at night. Patiño’s image of the lives of smugglers is not only romantic, harking back to simpler lives more attuned to nature that those of contemporary city folk, but also lives  mundane, fixed in patterns, clinical. Perhaps another bit of romanticism about the need for those things in contemporary life. Patiño’s very austere post-whatever film hides a bit of a sentimentalist and reveals a lot of a romantic.


Written by Nicholas Vroman

January 13, 2016 at 2:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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