(Portugal 2022; Dir: Rita Barbosa)

2nd Person

Confessions of a city dweller

review by Nino Kovačić

2nd Person

original title: 2a Pessoa,

length: 16

year of production: 2022

country of production: Portugal

director: Rita Barbosa

production: Rita Barbosa

director of photography: Jorge Quintela, Miguel ngelo, Bruno Medeiros

editing: Sandro Aguilar

sound: Rui Lima

cast: Márcia Breia, Daniel Pizamiglio

festivals: Curtas Vila do Conde 2022, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur 2023, Glasgow Short Film Festival 2023, Go Short 2023

© images: '2nd Person' (Rita Barbosa)

In the opening scene, a mechanical crane picks through what seems to be — as it is closely framed it’s hard to specify — a sea of garbage. A young man starts talking in voice-over, as if reading his intimate diary over a phone line. He mentions a visit to his aunt that had a strong impact on him, making him take on a life changing decision to reduce his “emotions to a minimum”. This beginning of ‘2nd Person’, written, produced and directed by Rita Barbossa, strongly sets an existentialist atmosphere reminiscent of the character of Meursault in Albert Camus’ famous novel ‘The Stranger’. This film, however, leads down a different narrative path.

After hearing a couple of heavy sighs and watching disjointed shots of parts of buildings, the voice-over narration is taken over by a tired elderly woman who, although it is not stated, could be identified as the young man’s aunt. She is a window observer, one of those recognizable figures (often older women) that decorate city buildings across countries and nations with their curious and judgmental daylong stares, keeping a godlike outlook on whatever is within their physical space of gaze. But unlike those stone-like faces that do not reveal any intimacy of the city's window voyeurs, in this film we are presented with a character who loves her neighborhood and its people. Yet, it is the moral rules of exactly this society that have made the woman bury her true personality and desires. As the old woman continues to talk about her first sexual encounter with another woman that she by chance connected with through a newspaper ad, her story becomes more intimate. This confession draws our attention to the images that accompany the vocal narration; these two cinematic elements come closer together in our focused search for the person who is confessing. Can she be found in the small figures we observe, who are folding the laundry or cleaning the window?

An outburst of honest sexual desire in a conservative, religious society is always an act of bravery. This anonymous woman tells it in a calm, proud and nostalgic voice that also implies she would like to have had more of the once found freedom. Such small twists in narration constantly impact our reflections on the finely edited images. For instance, when the woman says that she wishes for more of such experiences, the collaged city becomes a place of search, a hunting ground for inhibited desires. As the story progresses, more of the city sounds, such as telephones ringing, join the conversation. Lights and shadows of the mostly decrepit building facades accompany the vivid memory of an erotic episode of which even the narrator herself is unsure of some particular details. The realms of memories are slippery, maybe the desired fantasy has taken over the reality? Could she be only playing us for attention? If so, she does it with conviction.

However, the end of the film comes across quite curiously, considering the investment of belief that is given to the main female character only to be awakened again by a soothing voice of a hypnotic therapist, reminiscent of that of the young man’s voice who opened the film. It feels strange, as if we enter a new line of the story that simply connects both characters and gives it a dreamlike, therapeutic context. Maybe we were just experiencing someone’s multivocal fantasies?

‘2nd Person’ is about the human need for real connection and deeper emotions and the right to embrace the pleasures of life without shame. Stylistically, the entire film is set upon a direct disconnection between the unstaged visual scenes and acted voice-overs, somewhat having a formal feel of a film essay, but yet it works more on the emotional level of a character driven narrative. While the narrator’s speech dominates the viewer’s concentration, visually we are put in a place of illusion between the scenes being a series of subjective shots of the narrator on the one hand, and associative shots that allow us to mentally roam and make free floating connections with what is said. A carefully crafted soundscape can be considered the third narrative element. Not only are the voices of the actors emotionally very well directed (especially the wonderful acting by Márcia Breia), giving us a whole variety of feelings through a quiet talk with only subtle intonations, also the atmosphere that is built upon an amalgam of (often unidentified) background sounds of the humming city is subconsciously gripping in its fragile frequencies.

The poeticism of ‘2nd Person’ lingers on long after watching it, as the shots of the neighborhood can easily be visually and mentally transferred onto the prosaic world right outside our very own windows, tempting us to become more conscious narrators of our own lives and surroundings. That’s what good cinematic poetry does: it opens up worlds and words, voices and visuals. Considering the original title of the film (‘2a Pessoa’), the author of this text automatically associates it with Fernando Pessoa, a name that is a synonym of Portuguese poetry. I guess nomen is omen in this case.