Directors’ Fortnight Title ‘Légua,’ Broken Down by Helmers Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra

“Légua” by Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra has its world premiere in Directors Fortnight. Reis and Miller Guerra previously co-helmed the Cape Verde-set debut feature, “Djon Africa” (2018), and several documentaries.

“Légua” is produced by the company, Uma Pedra no Sapato, which Reis founded in 2008 and ranks as one of Portugal’s leading independent production companies.

The pic is set in the rural village of Légua in the North of Portugal, between Amarante and Marco de Canaveses. One of the main characters is an old country house that has been deserted by its heirs and is looked after by the ailing elderly housekeeper, Emilia, assisted by Ana (played by Carla Maciel (“Diamantino”), whose husband emigrates to work in France, leaving her to look after Emilia and her own restless teenage daughter, Mónica.

The film explores a world in decay, embodied by three women from different generations.  

Several scenes dispense with dialogue to focus on a sensorial, corporal dimension, ranging from an early sex scene, between Ana and her husband, to the physical duress associated to taking care of Emilia.

Miller Guerra spent part of his childhood in the house depicted in the film, and Lisbon-born Reis has gradually become attached to it.

The project was pitched at Rotterdam’s CineMart 2021 and was lensed in late 2021 during the height of the pandemic.

It is co-produced by Catarina Mourão at Portugal’s Laranja Azul, Alexandre Gavras at France’s KG Productions and Jon Coplon at Italy’s Stayblack Productions. World sales are repped by Luxbox, a sign of a high-profile arthouse proposition. The directors spoke to Variety

What was the initial inspiration for the film?

João Miller Guerra: I have a strong personal connection to the house and this village in the North of Portugal, which I often visited during my childhood, which is a world in the process of disappearing. The house shown in the film has been in my family for various generations, curiously always owned by women. The film is inspired by the true story of the housekeeper. It’s a fiction film rooted in reality. We wanted to maintain the Northern feel, in terms of the accents, the presence of granite and the atmosphere. 

The main characters are women

Filipa Reis: Yes. From three generations each with a different world view. The lead character, Ana, is forced to make choices, which help her discover herself. Her daughter says she should accompany her husband to France but she decides to stay. She resists. 

It was shot on 16mm?

Guerra: Yes. The film is a gesture of resistance. We wanted to make it as organic as possible. We increasingly depend on digital platforms, and we’re now witnessing both a Zoomification and “dehumanization” of the world. We are losing touch with the material dimension of existence and that’s what we wanted to explore here.

There is a strong physical and sensorial dimension to the film

Reis: The body was a very important aspect for us. For several years I’ve been interested in exploring this question. Our bodies are very dormant, which blocks access to our emotions. We’re programmed for other things. This exercise of returning to the body is very important for the film – whether the sun, the water or a damp sheet, or something more erotic or sexual that expands us. It was important for me to show the sex scene at the start of the film to break the clichéd view of a relationship between a man and a woman. I think it’s very important to think about female pleasure and not contribute to stereotypes. I wanted to show she really has an extraordinary relationship with her husband. It’s something very real that she decides she has to give up and effectively be subjugated as she helps another woman.

We get the sense in the film that the land belongs to the people who work on it.

Guerra: That idea is linked to the transformation process that dates back to Portugal’s 1974 revolution. The feudal regime that lasted for many centuries has slowly unraveled since 1974 and we see that before our eyes in the film. Emilia accepted to serve others, when she was hired many decades ago. Ana’s daughter harbors the same ambitions as the owners. Ana is divided between the two.

One of the themes of the film is the importance of the return to nature

Reis: We want people to feel time, through the pacing of the film. We decided not to show any urban settings. Contact with nature helps us feel what it is to be alive. To be part of this planet. Kids in the city are often out of touch with this. 

Guerra: Towards the end of the film, we see how death can give space for a new generation. We see the wild horses running free in the hills. The Transe party attended by Ana’s daughter is also a kind of initiation ritual, a passage to adulthood. Her hallucinogenic visions highlight the link with the natural world around her.

Did the fact that much of the film is shot in a single house facilitate filming during the pandemic?

Reis: More or less (laughs).  The lead actor Carla Maciel got Covid three weeks before the shoot. I gave her a big hug to support her and got it too! But overall the precautions worked very well.

What are your next personal projects?

Guerra:I’m finishing a documentary that I started shooting before “Légua” about a Portuguese rapper, Ghoya, who sings in creole.

Reis: I’m writing a film with a strong erotic dimension, but it’s still very embryonic. It’s about a woman who liberates herself and starts to explore sexual pleasure and her own body, but always from the perspective of feminine pleasure. It’s difficult to avoid falling into clichés!

And what are the upcoming projects from your production company?

Reis: We’re finishing three feature films – by Leonor Teles, Margarida Cardoso and Paulo Abreu. We also have a film in post by Pedro Pinho, in co-production with Terratreme, a debut feature by José Felipe Costa and the next feature from Miguel Gomes, “Grand Tour”. So we have a full house!

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