A LISBON AFFAIR has a melancholic visual style, inspired by films such as ‘MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY’ and ‘IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK’ by Barry Jenkins, ‘IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE’ by Wong Kar Wai, ‘LOST IN TRANSLATION’ by Sophia Coppola, and ‘LISBON STORY’ by Wim Wenders, a film that captures charmingly the atmosphere of Lisbon. But A LISBON AFFAIR doesn’t stay there. It adds a documentary-like element to its narrative for historical context, since being the protagonists Black, their existence in the geographical territory of the film can’t be conceived without the main event that brought them here: colonization.
A LISBON AFFAIR started as a simple fictional love story inspired by trumpetist Chet Baker tune ‘Alone Together’ – the tentative title of the film –, and the action in the original script happened in New York City. But stories often have a will of their own and this one wanted me to return to Lisbon where I immediately began adapting it to that geography, searching for charming locations to shoot.
My search took me to the neighborhood of Belém, for which I’ve always nurtured a special affection, and to the Discoveries monument in particular. It also took me to another of my favorite locations, the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, from which a nice view of the Castelo de São Jorge can be spotted.
Regarding the Discoveries monument by which beauty I was always fascinated, I’ve noticed for the first time its pretentious whiteness, propagandistic religious and patriotic erection and total absence of Black people among the human statues there featured. In fact, the only black element on that monument is an inscription dedicated to the Portuguese monarch that started the colonization “adventure”. This fact made it inevitable the inclusion of the monument as a character in the story, which gave the film the previously alluded historical and documentary-like element, which lives alongside, morphs into and complements a more immediate fictional dimension – both the love affair and the fictional tale that is the official narrative of the Portuguese colonization.
In that sense A LISBON AFFAIR is a hybrid film and the unadorned visual choice, filmed with only natural light, enhances the symbiosis between the fictional and the documentary-like narratives, adding to the fictional representation of Black people whose narrative in Portuguese cinema tends to be associated with a traumatic hyperrealism.
Music and dance also play an important role in the narrative, as a cathartic reconciliation element between the lovers, in a similar way it happens in reality with the cultural clashes between the Portuguese and the African cultures – the best way the white Portuguese have accepted the Afro-Portuguese is through music and dance. Wim Wenders’ Lisbon is pretty but incomplete, like a forbidden love affair, like the Discoveries myth, an incomplete representation of history. Both omit – one by accident or ignorance, the other intentionally – the fundamental presence of Black people in their cultural, ethnic, spiritual, historical and emotional dimensions.