Belarmino Indexicality is a far from unproblematic

Belarmino is considered to be the second film of the Cinema Novo Portugues (Portuguese New Cinema), a wave of New Cinema movement influenced by Soviet cinema, Italian Neorealism and French New Wave.

It was filmed during a time of economic recession in Portugal and the system was similar to a dictatorship at the time – this becomes very apparent due to the strong ‘repressive censorship’ in cinema because of the Salazar dictatorship. This highly reflects on the final outcome of a film; hence they have very little political content and the country’s situation is often portrayed through moving imagery instead. Following that logic, many new and alternative techniques or productions had yet to reach Portugal who was also fighting a colonial war in 3 parts (Angola, Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique) when Belarmino was filmed. The new wave of Portuguese cinema was very similar to Hollywood in a way – the idea to leave the studio which builds a connection to realism and is particularly useful for documentaries such as this one. There was also a shortage of  technological means of using the studio and therefore, rather than competing with Hollywood productions, it made more sense for the film producers to use the landscape to their advantage.

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“‘In Belarmino, we see images that represent persons, areas and activities iconically, rendering them visible to an audience now distant in time and space. This aspect is complemented by the indexical quality of cinematic footage, which assures that the image actually seen has existed. Indexicality is a far from unproblematic idea in film and photography. Though we can be sure that something existed we can never be certain of the identity of the object represented, much less where, when, why or how it existed.

“Other New Wave Cinemas such as: Neo-Realism (Italy), Nouvelle Vague (France), Free Cinema (UK), Independent film (USA), Novo Cinema (Brazil) – despite their differences, these film movements have several similar characteristics such as: youth culture, small budgets, strong focus on the portrayal of the middle class, the idea of a filmmaker to own his/her production and often also jazz music.Experimental Strand which is principally concerned with documenting Fragoso’s current and former activities, from the streets of Lisbon to a training session in his former boxing club. This strand also shows scenes from his daily life with his wife and later with his daughter, this represents the aspect of Belarmino’s life which can be described both as simple and easy going.The Interview Strand consists of an interview between Belarmino and Baptista Bastos, a journalist, writer and at the time, a film critic. Throughout this particular strand, Belarmino roughly explains the situation of how his name became tarnished.  His brother fought in London using Belarmino’s name and lost. Furthermore, he expands on Jack Solomon, his contractor, whom he describes as ‘um dos maiores empresarios mundials’ (one of the most important impresarios in the world).

Additionally, Belarmino discusses his domestic life – his elderly mother still had to work even though according to him this is by choice and has been doing it her entire life – and he had been forced to leave home at seventeen. Next, he tells the story of his immediate family, his loyal wife to whom he claims devotion and his two daughters. In A Comedia a Portuguesa – the portuguese comedy – the comedies depict the desire of social mobility and the characters usually come from middle class backgrounds with social aspirations that consist of marrying rich, yet in these films their aspiration is overcome through resignation of their social status. The purpose of portuguese comedies were more to reflect the ideological context of their time.  Unlike in the Portuguese comedies, Belarmino makes evidence of the conflicting social relationships by means of either depicting Belarmino opposing his manager’s view, Albano Martins – or Belarmino compared against the urban space of the city.  “What makes Belarmino different from a fictional film is any ‘truth’ that it conveys comes both from the interior vision of the director and from the outside world.

Belarmino does not simply allude to what could have been. Though the fact that the boxer did not realise his potential is a potent line in its criticism of Lisbon, Lopes’s film also shows what life in the city was actually like.”To compare Belarmino with other productions such as Os Verdes Anos, Paulo Rocha (1963)  even though the protagonist is not from Lisbon, the situation of the collective of people is similar: they seek work but they struggle and feel displaced due to the lack of discipline and equality within the system. Same goes for Belarmino, he is now stuck but ‘could have been great’.

 As aforementioned, the Salazar regime was very much in place at this time and Belarmino’s career appears to represent somewhat of a comparison between this and the decline stage of said system. ‘In Belarmino we are not only given a sight of the ex-boxer’s life but also an insight into what it feels like to be living it’, as Belarmino moves through the city and we see a long-angled shot of the ex-boxer walking through Lisbon. Then the camera pans over the facades of buildings from a low-angle point of view, which gives us the impression of alienation. At this point Belarmino looks up and we see a different shot of the buildings and we immediately feel the entrapment as he is surrounded by these tall buildings. These shots not only emphasize the viewing representation with our own eyes but enhance the experience of seeing the urban space first-hand.

In other words, this can be linked back to the experimental strand as the daily lifeworld of Belarmino. To expand on the explanation of the flaneur, there’s a scene where Belarmino is running across the stadium track and the camera is filming him from a great distance. This can be argued as Belarmino being lonely and perhaps even lost in space, as he is no more than a tiny figure compared to the vastness of the stadium which was designed to accumulate a good percentage of the city’s population.

 “He reveals that he now has no job, but makes ends meet through biscatezinhos his occasional work as a photo-colourist and loans from friends. He says that sometimes he goes hungry, a fact he brushes off by saying … often I want to have dinner but can’t, often I want to have lunch but can’t but that doesn’t mean I am hungry’. “


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