The Green Years
In 2001, Raquel Freire was 26 years old and made her first feature film entitled Rasganço. The film is a furious love letter to Coimbra. It’s her look at secular traditions and codes of behaviour, but also at the city that she deeply admires. She says, several times during our conversation, that she lived there during her “green years”.
In 2019, I met Raquel after the screening of Rasganço, at the 13th edition of Motelx. The Lisbon International Horror Film Festival reminded us that, this year, the film reaches its adulthood. This text didn’t take eighteen years to see the light of day, but it’s a few weeks behind the initial deadline. Listening to our conversation now, I believe even more that nothing happens sooner or later. It happens at the right time. I write this text a few days after the new government takes office. Hearing someone say that she learned to be a citizen in Coimbra, as president of the academic association, reminds us of the demands we must make on our governors and also of our role as participants in the democratic process.
Portugalidade, your name is Maria dos Anjos.
“The beginning of the film is a kind of fairy tale, everything is beautiful. Then we understand what’s behind it all. The architecture that holds this appearance is composed of layers of oppression, exclusion and injustice. This is stated by the professor in the first class that Edgar attends. He is the professor who declares that Law does not exist without the value of freedom. And freedom implies not being excluded right from the outset. There is no equality without freedom. Coimbra taught me the weight and responsibility of freedom. I locked the doors of the University with my colleagues, we went on strike against the exams, there was civil disobedience, we boycotted tuition fees, we rose up against a government”, says Raquel Freire with a fierce glow in her eyes, almost always part of her speech. In Rasganço, all criticism of Coimbra – and of herself as a student – is the result of that deep love for the city and the time she lived there. “When we like it, that’s when we need to be critical”, she says. “That’s the only way we live in a democracy. We have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. In this film, we are always seeing different points of view”, she concludes.
Rasganço tells the story of Edgar, a young man who arrives in Coimbra as an outsider: He’s not a student, he has no money, he doesn’t belong to any traditional family. No matter how hard he tries, that world is still out of his reach. His initial fascination with Coimbra quickly turns into anger. He takes revenge on the city through the rape and mutilation of his female acquaintances. The first to welcome him is Maria dos Anjos (portrayed by Paula Marques), a simple woman who has long accepted her role in the hierarchy. She falls in love with Edgar and, perhaps because he sees her as equal, and not as part of the “royalty” of Coimbra (as is the case with other women), she is the only one who he does not touch.
Maria dos Anjos’s confidant is King Afonso Henriques. She visits his tomb when she wants to ask for Edgar’s protection. With that same devotion, she takes justice into her own hands when she discovers the truth about her beloved.
At first, Maria dos Anjos seems to be a character who exists in function of Edgar, with little influence on the narrative’s evolution. However, in a moment of glory, she proves to be the backbone of what it is to be a woman. “It represents our Portugalidade [The Portuguese way]. Unlike Salazar’s Portugal, our deepest Portugalidade is pagan, it’s a woman who speaks to our first king. She has a concept of justice that accurately depicts this country. A tiny country, where people have always had to do justice for themselves, including kings,” Raquel explains. “We, the Portuguese, are not soft, that’s a myth they invented about us. We are passionate, bloodthirsty, super dramatic. Peter I of Portugal cut the heart out of one of his best friends, because he killed her lover Inês. And this [Rasganço] was also my look at our way of being. In Portugal, there are many ways of being, but there’s a Portugalidade that’s not soft, no matter how hard they try to tame it. It’s passionate, strong and violent, when needed. If it’s necessary to set fire to a man who is a rapist, that happens. And, likewise, people also ask for his protection. Female justice is also all of this. The emancipations of this film also show that there is no correct form of emancipation. There is no correct way to fight, they all are”, she says.
Rasganço is a Portuguese slasher film?
The presence of Rasganço in the 13th edition of Motelx may be odd for some. But it’s easy for any fan of horror cinema to find signs that would fit into a classic slasher (the title, for instance). However, in the cinema, we feel that these references do not exist in the essence of Rasganço. They are layers that we add later. The director confirms that she is not a fan of the genre, but identifies herself with the need to portray violence. She wanted to film what she didn’t see in Portuguese cinema: a brutal and bloody work, as we are in everyday life. Especially when we have uncontrolled hormones, when we believe that everything is within our reach, that everything has an irreversible trait: it’s the greatest love of our life, it’s the greatest hatred, it’s the most important fight. “It was the desire to portray the violence against women, the violence of students against those who are not students, the violence of those who are rich against those who do not have that privilege. And many other forms of constant, social, daily violence, that we live. Not being able to enter a place because I don’t have the right outfit, because I’m not part of the club. We are not that revolutionary when we fight against tuition fees and then the person without money cannot join the party. That’s not being a revolutionary. The criticism of these revolutionary people is in the film and I was one of those. Self-criticism is there”, she says.
But, in this portrait, it’s important to emphasize the use of violence as a narrative and aesthetic element. Just like someone who uses a knife without knowing that it can tear the skin and pierce vital organs. In this 13th edition of Motelx, Raquel Freire was also a jury member of the MOTELX Award – Best Portuguese Horror Short Film / Méliès d’Argent and talked about this idea. “There’s a film that was screened… Another director [also a jury in the same competition] and I said that we don’t want more films like this. It’s enough. Cinema is also about life. Once again, a woman is assaulted and nothing happens. Written by a man, filmed by a man. People must stop making these films. The message you are perpetuating is one of impunity”, Raquel says.
The not so green years of a new generation
One of Rasganço’s well-kept secrets is that Raquel Freire discovered she was pregnant on the third day of shooting. Against all that is recommended, she kept filming. “I was at the happiest moment of my life, making my dream come true with the people I loved the most, filming this subject with the utmost freedom. Next to all the people, from the artistic and human standpoint, that I wanted to be next to me. I felt it was the right time to have a child, because I was in harmony with myself and the world”, she says.
The son, now 18, watched Rasganço for the first time at Motelx. He said, while hugging his mother, that he didn’t know she had made a film like this. He enjoyed the privilege of having been educated by an activist, not only in the most immediate sense of the word, but also in the sense of someone who looks at action – at the act of doing – as a weapon against the idea that there is no longer a future. She says that the winning short film of the Motelx competition – Erva Daninha, by Guilherme Daniel – talked about that hopelessness. That’s what touched her the most, because she sees this feeling in her son’s generation. “Since he was a kid, I’ve been doing with him the exercise of asking if the glass is half full or half empty. I also tell him that to be happy is a political act. You choose to be happy, you choose what you give importance to. You are the one who chooses whether to give importance to Instagram, with tons of likes involved, to not having an Instagram account, or to have an Instagram account where you post the things you like and that’s it. And that may cause you anxiety or not. And it’s you who chooses what you do with that time: if you spend it there or if you opt to write or record a song. The easiest thing for people is to be entertained these days. Everything is designed for that. And that’s not living”, she says.