(Be)Longing (Volta à Terra)
First-time director João Pedro Plácido’s freshman effort, (Be)Longing, strives to capture the jarring juxtaposition that occurs when a lifestyle rooted in centuries-old traditions collides with the realities of youth’s modern-day expectations. The subject of this documentary is 21-year-old Daniel, a farmer with a ninth-grade education living in the rural Portuguese countryside who prides himself on working the land and lacks the desire for urban living held by most others of his generation.
The action is centered in the tiny farming village of Uz, a tight-knit and insular community. Daily life revolves around an ongoing series of tasks that range from the rigorous (harvesting wheat, pushing a stalled tractor out of the mud) to the gruesome (slaughtering livestock). Daniel is one of a few bachelors in the village; while clearly capable in his farmhand duties, he endures regular teasing from his elders about everything from his “lazy” 7am wake-up time to his weak style of tilling soil. The world he inhabits is focused on the values of work and family and Daniel is satisfied with this.
While this study is interesting enough, it is not sufficiently engaging for a full 78 minutes. The most intriguing part of the film is the peek into the dating norms of this society. At the village festival, Daniel encounters a very attractive former classmate, who lives in a neighboring town, and becomes smitten. While their chaste exchange is undoubtedly charming, it is not entirely lacking in contemporary courtship rituals (as it turns out, even twenty-something Portuguese farmers have cell phones). Their connection emphasises the stark contrast between young adults who crave to seek the perceived spoils of technology-centric urban life and those who consciously choose to pursue an existence strongly rooted in times gone past.
In addition to directing, Plácido is also credited as cinematographer. There are distinct moments of true beauty: the seasonal changes to the landscape, from lush to gloomy to snow-covered picturesque, are skillfully captured with care. If the overall narrative had only reflected a similar approach to provide a more insightful exploration of these individuals’ lives, it’s likely that it would have resulted in a more compelling feature.
(Be)Longing does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for (Be)Longing (Volta àTerra) here: