Campo

 

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A film for anyone keen to find a cinema experience unlike any other.

 
Campo

  

To find a film as distinctive as this one by the Portuguese director Tiago Hespanha is very rare indeed and if only it had lasted some 75 minutes instead of 101, it might have been outstanding. As it is, I felt that it somewhat run out of ideas and became unnecessarily repetitive, but the concept behind it is remarkably original and wholly cinematic.

 

Technically Campo is a documentary in that it uses no actors and was shot at Alcochete, the field firing range outside of Lisbon which is Europe’s largest military base. The training there is observed alongside footage of the natural life in the area as observed by a birdwatcher and a beekeeper among others. But what gives Campo its unique character is the fact that the contrast between the animals and militaristic mankind is presented in the context of a crucial voice over by Hespanha. At the outset, the film echoes the book of Genesis by describing how the world was created out of chaos (“In the beginning…”). But this is ascribed not to the Christian God but to the gods. In this way, the text brings in such legendary figures as Prometheus to suggest that the fire which he stole from the gods was his gift to man because all the other key positive traits with which they might have been endowed had been used up already by his brother and allocated to the animals.

 

This borrowing from Greek mythology may seem an odd way to reflect on the world today, but it grips one because Hespanha’s film is poetic and imaginative not only in its visuals but in its striking use of music. Once the style has been established, the film becomes a meditation contrasting the world of nature (natural sounds are given full play) with man’s obsessive concern with violence encouraged by living in a world of limited knowledge and in ignorance of the universe of which we are a part (stories told of Earth viewed from space beyond our solar system become relevant here). What exists in this universe is regarded as breathtaking in itself rather than something that needs to be explained. Elsewhere man’s behaviour is illustrated by the cutting down of a tree that had taken seventy years to grow, all done within two or three minutes.

 

Not all of the ideas are original, of course, but the way in which they are formulated through this blend of imagery and words makes for a film that is wholly distinctive. Hespanha’s previous films (this is his fourth) were shorter and it a pity that he allows Campo to become so repetitive in its second half. When the comment “enough is enough” comes up late on it invites unintended agreement. Nevertheless, the concluding sequence regains impact by evoking the end of the world while also finding exquisite irony in a long pan showing fireworks, a shot that feels anything but celebratory.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Afonso Matias, Nelson Oliveira, Alcino Pachedo, Nuno Antunes, Anabela Fernandes, Anselmo Dias, Nuno Cataluna, Antonio Crespo, Pedro Ferrao, Paulo Margalhan, Emanuel Fernandes.

 

Dir Tiago Hespanha, Pro Tiago Hespanha, Luisa Homem, João Matos, Pedro Pinho, Leonor Noivo and Susana Nobre, Screenplay Tiago Hespanha, Ph Tiago Hespanha, Claudia Varejão and Rui Xavier, Ed Tiago Hespanha and Francisco Moreira.

 

Terratreme Filmes-Terratreme Filmes.
101 mins. Portugal. 2019. Rel: 1 November 2019. No Cert.