Cartas da Guerra (Letters from War)
In theory, anyone can be hypnotised. It entirely depends on whether the subject allows it to happen. The lyrical language and glamourous black-and-white photography of director Ivo M. Ferreira’s magnificent Cartas da Guerra (Letters from War) evoke a sensation of being hypnotised, and it’s best to simply succumb. Opening in 1971, young doctor António (Miguel Nunes) has been sent to the Portuguese Colonial War in Angola. He writes a never-ending succession of letters home to his pregnant wife, and it’s these letters that narrate and guide the story as they’re read out in her lilting voiceover.
The letters manage to be both poetic and occasionally prosaic, depending on António’s mood, and while it’s not a film without dialogue, António’s actual spoken words are very far and few between. He’s not introverted or stilted by any stretch, but it’s in his letters where his sharp mind and his tenderness are overt. Nunes does an excellent job given the fact that he is rarely able to communicate with dialogue.
Ferreira initially shoots his handsome young military men like matinee idols, with the crispness of the black and white making their gradual decay all the more obvious. While there’s no colour to be seen, it feels as though the palate changes as the war drags on, and as António’s sympathies swing slowly towards the left. While it was a place of wartime horrors in the 1960s and 70s, Angola (where the film was shot) still looks beautiful, albeit in a rather stark manner.
A black-and-white film where any clearly defined thought is communicated by an almost unseen female reader could easily be consigned to the always-vague label of arthouse cinema. But once the method of delivery is accepted, the movie elegantly immerses its audience in a nuanced world that depicts a largely forgotten war. Cartas da Guerra is a rich and haunting triumph.
Cartas da Guerra (Letters from War) does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Cartas da Guerra here: