Two filmmakers leave to Macao in an adventure of discovery of a city-labyrinth, multicultural and mysterious, where the memories of the childhood - featured memories by the lived reality in...
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Two filmmakers leave to Macao in an adventure of discovery of a city-labyrinth, multicultural and mysterious, where the memories of the childhood - featured memories by the lived reality in Macao - have a dialog with the memories of the East built by the codes of the cinema and the literature - memories lived on a featured reality-, creating a testimony which tries to raise the veil on the past and the present time. A personal album of physical and emotional geography, structured as an investigation disguised as a thriller, where the puzzle of the history challenges the reality. Written by
There are plenty of films that proceed from a gimmick and make a success of it. For example there's the impressive "Russian Ark" (2002), a 2-hour film shot entirely in one continuous camera take. Or the opposite: the equally impressive "Man of the Year" (2002), a 2-hour film shot on 22 cameras filming simultaneously in real time. There's "Lady in the Lake" (1947) which was the first feature film shot entirely in first person/POV. And there's "La Jetée" (1962) composed almost entirely of still photos. I enjoyed all of these movies, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't enjoy "Last Time I Saw Macao".
The gimmick of this movie is that it doesn't show any characters. Aside from a 2-minute song & dance routine in the very beginning which may or may not be the character "Candy" whom the narrator is pursuing, there are no actors at all. Instead we get 82 minutes of scenery & seemingly random people with a narrator telling us a story. The images, though artistic, don't always gel with the narrator's story, and after about an hour I realized that this "story" was probably written after the scenes were filmed, loosely (very loosely) tying the footage together.
The IMDb plot summary, confusing and unrevealing as it is, is surprisingly accurate:
"Two filmmakers leave to Macao in an adventure of discovery of a city-labyrinth, multicultural and mysterious ... A personal album of physical and emotional geography, structured as an investigation disguised as a thriller, where the puzzle of the history challenges the reality."
Allow me to translate: directors João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata went to Macao with a camera and shot a whole bunch of city scenery, then tried to weave a thriller out of it. Where it failed is in the way it tries too hard to be a thriller, giving us a contrived, melodramatic story which is completely incongruous with the quiet, mundane scenes we are shown. The story is about a desperate drag queen "Candy" who summons her friend to Macao because she fears for her life. A covered bird cage appears, and people start killing each other over it, so we are told (none of the action is ever shown). The narrator leads us through twists & turns, mostly leading nowhere, for 82 minutes. The resolution of the story is rather contrived & sudden, and it doesn't offer much satisfaction.
German director Wim Wenders has often taken the approach of filming a movie first and writing it later. Somehow he makes it work, like in "Wings of Desire" which came from 10 poems his friend wrote, strung together with artistic visuals and great acting by Peter Falk, Bruno Ganz et al, ultimately telling the story of an angel who gives up his wings.
"Last Time I Saw Macao" struck me as taking the same approach, but it just never came together. Watch it if you just want to see nice images of an exotic city. But if you are looking for any sort of traditional literary story or soul-enhancing truths, you won't find it here. The gimmick just didn't work for me.
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