João César Monteiro’s world is a strange one. Over 21 films made from 1969 to his death in 2003, the Portuguese auteur built worlds out of flat screens, a still camera, and soundtracks consisting of people talking softly—all of which would sound terribly boring, save for the men running around in pig masks and the gods with the giant dildos. It’s an extremely dark, extremely funny world without a center. The closest we get to having one is when Monteiro casts himself in his films as the tormented João de Deus (he says in 1989’s Recollections of the Yellow House, “I never eat at regular hours and sometimes I forget to eat altogether”), a bearded, bespectacled praying mantis of a man who walks the world open-mouthed.
His best-known film, Recollections of the Yellow House, is a lyrical view of a boarding house that at times feels more like an asylum. At other times, as in Snow White, Monteiro erases the background altogether; the screen goes entirely black and all that we get are characters’ voices on the soundtrack (in this case Princess, Hunter, Queen). Because he continually strives to give us beauty, though, Monteiro’s films prove more hopeful than despairing. Their world is destructive, but what matters most is that, as Beckett wrote, “The discourse must go on.”
For the next month, BAM is hosting a Monteiro retrospective. (The series starts today with 1982’s Silvestre.) Monteiro’s films are rare in the States, and this is his first-ever U.S. show. I spoke with series curator Haden Guest (Harvard Film Archives), and asked BAM’s curator Florence Almozini a question or two, to learn more.
read more: http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2010/04/a-conversation-about-joao-cesar-monteiro/