Mozambique in the 1960s began its struggle for independence in earnest, having being colonised by Portugal in the 16th century. The 'terrorists' were FRELIMO, who formed the first government in 1975, but not before a protracted war with the Rhodesian-backed RENAMO, leading to over a million deaths. The early days of this uprising are examined through Portuguese eyes, as Evita (Beatriz Batarda) arrives from Europe to marry Luis (Filipe Duarte). She is a headstrong young woman who finds herself at first lost and confused in this strange land which is changing as she tries to come to terms with her life there. He is a soldier with a unit whose task is to wipe out the 'insurgents'.
During Luis' expeditions he tries to insist that his bride stays inside the home in Maputo, the capitol, as he fears attacks from locals. She refuses to live in purdah, though, and moves to a hotel, enjoying the city and beach by herself. She finds a friend, in Helena (Monica Calle), who has accepted subordination; they form a close relationship, and Helena reveals secrets about Luis' previous army experiences - more than Evita would rather have wanted to know. Once, on leave, Luis and his boss, Helena's husband, take the girls on a shooting trip where their complete loss of respect for life, and particularly Luis' desire to impress his superior, are demonstrated in their incontinent spending of bullets.
Evita also strikes up a close relationship with a journalist (Luis Sarmento), who explains that it's dangerous for newspapers to be as literal as she would like, in the telling of what really is going on around them. Her awakening already caused upset at the dinner table when she had the temerity to suggest that it might be alright for the Mozambicans to get their country back after so long. Meanwhile, mysterious poisonings all over town and spontaneous attacks by Portuguese residents against the 'niggers'. These are not sub-plots, there to lift the story from pulp-fiction level; they are part of a complexity, an echo of the chaos the country as a whole would have been suffering.
Comparisons can be made to other films, like The Quiet American, or Indochine; and to other post-colonial countries like Iraq (and Maputo, with its comfortable but fragile insularity, could be Tel Aviv). This is its own kind of film, though, and the screenplay includes warm novelistic drifts from the novel (of the same name) by Lidia Jorge. In voice-over, the older Evita talks to her younger, active self, musing on what could have been or what was. Throughout, the minimal soundtrack by Bernardo Sassetti is more ambient or emphatic than straight music, and is inseparable from the visuals. Lisa Hagstrand's camera-work subtly acts in a similar way: Evita is always shot against bright light and breezes, while Helena is framed by mahogany and deep shadow, and the colour is slightly washed-out; almost sepia. The fact that 'A costa dos murmurios' defies easy classification should guarantee a long life. CLIFF HANLEY
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