The Broken Kaleidoscope

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Sergio Trefaut "Lisboners"

“Lisboners” is a simply told documentary, and judging by the quality of its video footage, made on a tight budget. The main subject of the film is the wave of immigration that has occurred in Portugal after the country joined the European Union in 1986. Earlier Lisbon was known as a city from where the Portuguese navigators of old streamed out to explore the Americas, Africa and Asia; nowadays it is destination of migrants from Brazil, Ukraine, Nigeria, Pakistan, and other underdeveloped countries. The local Russian-language radio tells that for 500 years Portugal had been a land of emigration, and now it has become a country of reception. Sérgio Tréfaut’s documentary aims at recording the paths of life of these new Lisboners.

The range of experiments Tréfaut captures is wide but not diversified. We see a lot of immigrants from Ukraine who hardly understand a word in Portuguese. We encounter people looking for a legal job and their desperate calls to family. We hear a Russian mother complaining about the low quality of the Portuguese schooling. We find ourselves among Nigerian immigrants listening to a preacher relating passages in the Bible to present immigrants’ situation in Portugal. There is also a scene from a Bangladeshi mosque in Martim Moniz. The end is marked by a birth of a little girl to the immigrants couple. What we have been watching for 108 minutes is the misery and the sadness of immigrants who left their homes and can not become a part of the country they have chosen to live in. But if the fortune of immigrants is that hard and miserable why so many people choose to go this way? The film by Tréfaut obviously lacks examples of successful cases of immigration to present a true picture of the situation. This makes an impression that the film is biased and manipulates with the feelings of viewers.

The film is too long, too chaotic, too exhausting to be called at least worthwhile. The attempt of presenting the variety of the immigrants’ experiences results in the monotony of the identical scenes. The scenes are boring, insipid, bland and indifferent. Instead of presenting so many characters, the director should focus on one person and make his troubled life close to us. Then his misfortune could be heart-touching, moving and persuasive also for the viewer.

It is noticeable that Sergio Tréfaut had an ambition to shoot an artistic film. However the changes of frames and face close-ups which should give the impression of intimacy, are not aesthetic and simply distasteful. In my opinion, artistic means creative, picturesque, representing some added values that are not available to every human being. In comparison to this definition Tréfaut’s film reminds a chestnut dreaming about being an apple. The background music being at best a shoddy windscreen wiper.

“Lisboners” is neither an artistic film nor a documentary. In contrast to a Polish documentaries it lacks the main character, central event or plot. It does not have any punch-line. Directors of Polish documentaries not only present the general phenomenon they have chosen to describe but also one story exemplifying it.

The film was intended to be a kaleidoscope of different cultures and different immigrants’ experiences. The outcome is in fact a kaleidoscope but broken from the very first snapshot.

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