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Imagens de uma cidade perdida

Just a little note, for those interested.   Newest film was invited to Rotterdam festival, where both Marcella and I will be to see friends, films, and introduce and do Q and A with film. Imagens (Images of a lost city) is a portrait of a disappearing Lisbon, which was recorded when I lived there, 1996-98. It was mostly shot in the area around the Alfama, Castelo de São Jorge, and Graça, though there are other places glimpsed. These are old neighborhoods in the center of the city, a hint of what once was Lisboa.

I first saw the city in 1964, while traveling on an Italian freighter, as one of 12 passengers, enroute to Tampico, Mexico.  Beginning in Genoa, other stops included Livorno, Marseille, Cadiz, then Lisboa and on across the Atlantic where we could have stopped in Habana but the United States had imposed its embargo, so we went on to La Guaira, a port for Caracas, and then to Vera Cruz and finally Tampico. It took a month, and cost all of $150, meals included. It was an Italian ship so the food was pretty good since one ate with the captain.  It was a fantastic adventure, too with many stories for another day.  Portugal at that time was still a very isolated little piece of Europe, under the right-wing dictator, Salazar, and distant from almost everywhere owing its location on the edge of the Iberian peninsula, the bad roads, poverty, and political climate. Then there were almost no cars, and little children trailed me as I went into the Alfama, the rare tourist, with my Pentax in hand.  It was at that time an extraordinarily beautiful city, its little pedrinas and stone inlays, its azulas (blue ceramic tiles which covered many buildings as protection against the ocean climate) all marking each square centimeter as being lovingly attended by hand and craft. I had seen many other European cities, but Lisboa left a deep impact.  Later, in the early 1980’s I returned, to shoot a documentary (never finished) for the BFI on Raul Ruiz, and renewed my acquaintance with Lisboa, which had already been somewhat ravaged by modernity, and which had begun to look and feel like a run-down 3rd world city. Again I returned in the late 80’s, and had a traumatic and passionate affair with a Portuguese singer, who quite inadvertently influenced the making of All the Vermeers in New York, which is dedicated to her.

And again I returned, then with my partner, Teresa Villaverde, a young (at that time) Portuguese filmmaker who had pursued me for several years after meeting me at a small festival in Dunquerque, in 1994 or so, and with whom I lived 5 years.  In 1997 our daughter Clara was born, at the same time I was shooting the material that became Imagens de uma cidade perdida.  In 1998 we moved to Paris, where Teresa edited her film Os Mutantes, as the producer, Jacques Bidou, was French.   Afterward we moved to Rome where we lived.   On November 2, 2000, Teresa Villaverde Cabral – having almost completed shooting of a new film, Agua e Sal (Water and Salt, i.e., tears) in which a surrogate filmmaker (a curator of photo exhibits), who was played by an Italian actress, Galatea Ranzi, who happened to look almost exactly like Teresa, especially after a bit of hair-cutting, etc., is breaking up with her husband, played by Brazilian singer Chico Buarque, and who together have a young child, played by Clara Villaverde Cabral Jost, at her mother’s insistence  – kidnapped Clara from our home in Rome.  In the film the same occurs: Clara is kidnapped by her film mother. (More gruesome is that owing to typical film-world crap, Clara’s cinematic kidnapping was filmed after her real one – despite vehement objections I made to the Portuguese Juvenile court.)  To say a long and very unhappy period followed, as a completely corrupt Portuguese system closed around their “star” and legality was cavalierly trashed in the interests of an “important” Lisboa family. I have been unable to see my daughter, whom I had raised almost single-handedly for 3 and a half years while her mother tended the more important matter, to her,  of making her films (Os Mutantes and Agua e Sal), since August 2001. Teresa Villaverde has refused all contact, sent back gifts for Clara, and otherwise behaved in a manner typical to those called Parental Alienators. It has, for me, been a tragedy, which I am sadly certain has been doubled, or worse, in Clara. She will have her 14th birthday on March 27 of this year.

Clara, on her Facebook page, which was closed down the day I asked to “friend” her.

To say I have a conflicted sensibility about Portugal and Lisbon would be a considerable understatement. My experience there,  perhaps reflected in Imagens, is fully expressive of the Portuguese inclination towards fatalism and sadness. For them it is as if a part of their DNA, a cultural piece which they are obliged to carry. They have a particular word for it, saudade. However fanciful it sounds, the place is pervaded with it, and in a sense they are proud of it.   It is a phenomenon which is collectively neurotic, wherein they seem willfully to bring upon themselves actions which will induce a bit of saudade.   It is little wonder they are currently undergoing their economic travails, and surely in a way, they imagine they deserve it.

Imagens de uma cidade perdida runs 93 minutes. It’s slow and languid, like Lisboa. It is drenched in both beauty and melancholy, again, as Lisboa is. Its screening times and places in Rotterdam are as follows:

Friday, 01/28/2011, 14:30 Cinerama 5

Monday, 01/31/2011 14:30 Cinerama 7

Tuesday, 02/01/2011 22:15 LV 6

Also screening in Rotterdam will be a retrospective of my friend Nathaniel Dorsky’s films. See this.

[For post-festival comments on my own film see this, and for comments on Nathaniel’s screenings, see this.]



  1. Hey, you nailed it today in your Lieberman piece.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. I was in Lisbon in the fall of ’08, and fell immediately in love with it. We passed through what used to be the slums of Fontainhas, where Pedro Costa made his remarkable trilogy. It’s rather different there now.

    I know you’re preparing certain of your filoms for dvd release, Jon. Is there any chance that this work might also be made available?

    • Hi Yes, I’ll have DVDs of it. I already do but I think when back in Seoul I’ll be able to get a bit more of the Portuguese street talk deciphered and translated, which should make it marginally more interesting to non-Portuguese speaking watchers.

  3. I think that, in what regards Portugal and its people, you’re extrapolating based on your bad experience more than expressing a fully informed observation. Generalization is always risky.

    • I agree that generalizing is risky, even always false. But… But I did live in Portugal about 3 years, visited it since 1964, and have more than a passing acquaintance with it. And as someone who has lived in many countries and is a somewhat experienced observer, well I guess I will stand by my generalizations.

  4. I saw this film in Rotterdam a few days ago and loved it almost from the minute it started. Thank You very much for making this beautiful film, I had never seen one of Your films before, but I’ll make sure to catch up on Your work soon. Some of these images don’t leave my imagination, they grow stronger with each day passing.

    • Thanks for kind comments. I was, frankly, rather surprised by the audience response – few leaving, very favorable and enthusiastic words at the Q and A’s. It is such a languid, gentle and perhaps a bit sad film, that I didn’t anticipate any such response. And for me a bit soured by my little errors (including a missing piece of music I didn’t mention to audiences there, a song of Alfonsa (?) over the political wall paintings that marks a middle-of-film break), which for me were way too disruptive – gotta go home and fix them. Catching up on my films is going to be a piece of work – thirty plus features and hours of short films…. Again, thanks for the generous words.

  5. My husband and I saw your film last night at the Northwest Film Forum as part of Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival (STIFF). It was a lovely experience, one that I’m sure your daughter will someday share.

    • Hi Thanks. I’d be curious to know how many were there and what the general feeling seemed to be. Wish it could have been shown off tape since it would look a bit better, but they wanted DVD. I hope Clara someday sees it, the other I did for her, PASSAGES, and much better than that for her and me, will be to see her. It’s been now 10 and a half years, all owing to her mother’s behavior. See the blog for more on that. Glad you liked the piece. Best

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  1. […] about? Jon (who’s last name is eerily similar to mine.) was on his way to premiere his latest filmImagens de uma cidade perdida at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival, and had festivals on the brain. He sent me his thoughts […]

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