Many filmmakers veer towards the weight and tumult of guilt; David Pinheiro Vicente attends to the delicacy of innocence. In the wet heat of Onde o verão vai (episódios da juventude), his first fiction film, elements of the story of the Garden of Eden abound: paradisiacal nature, snakes, fruit. The filmmaker has spoken of taking inspiration from Emily Dickinson’s The Bible is an Antique Volume, a poem in which the author calls Eden “the ancient Homestead.” Pinheiro Vicente returns to this origin myth, but only to overturn the lesson it habitually teaches: under his gaze, sensuality flourishes unblemished by sin.
In the story of Adam and Eve, the couple lives naked and without shame until a serpent persuades them to eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge. Eve, created from Adam’s rib, is the one who first heeds the cunning creature’s urging to defy divine authority, and it is she who passes the fruit to her progenitor-companion, leading to their expulsion from paradise –actions which help forge the notion, distressingly persistent in Western culture, that woman is a weak-willed and culpable temptress. Onde o Verão Vai turns its back on such prohibition and blame, as well as on the couple as the fundamental unit of sociality and sexuality. In place of the primordial pair is a mixed group of six teenagers, throbbing with carnal energy that circulates indiscriminately. In the comfort of nature, they aimlessly enjoy the environment and each another, moving through varying permutations of intimacy, solitude, and care. They eat fruit without punishment; they caress a snake that crosses their path without consequence. The fall never comes.
The fall never comes, but small hints of its chill are felt. For the duration of Onde o Verão Vai, summer and youth pulse together as vital forces, shaping a world without sin. Nonetheless, the film’s title and elliptical form evoke a bittersweet ephemerality, suggesting a retrospective look back from a time when the hot days have waned and the tender experience of collectivity has become but a handful of fragmentary memories. A second shadow of loss is cast by the enigmatic anecdote told at the beginning of the film, concerning a snake that lives as a pet in the kind of domestic environment Onde o Verão Vai never pictures. Soaked in latent violence, the relationship between the snake and its supposed master allegorizes the problem of trusting one’s own impressions and assuming the benevolence of the other.
That disillusionment and violence threaten to intrude upon blissful ignorance, and that the passage into knowledge is marked with pain are notions that equally but differently propel Pinheiro Vicente’s second short, O Cordeiro de Deus. Shot in the former home of the director’s father, the film was inspired by the latter’s memories of village life, as well as the paintings of Paula Rego. At its centre is an event it declines to represent, the slaughter of a lamb. Once more, Pinheiro Vicente turns to Christian iconography: if the snake inaugurates the passage into sin, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God expiates sin for all humanity. Yet here too, the filmmaker deftly plays with the conventional meanings attached to the religious symbolism he employs. In O Cordeiro de Deus, the death of the lamb results not in absolution; rather, it is an event that brings about the loss of innocence of Chico, a young boy who had grown attached to the animal and who had believed his mother when she reassured him that the lamb was merely “going for a little trip” and would return.
Chico’s traumatic initiation into the brutality of everyday life is paralleled by the experience of his older brother, Diogo, who overhears – and possibly witnesses – a coercive sexual encounter between the girl he loves and the man he works for. In the film’s final shot, after the lamb has become meat on the counter and gore to be mopped up from the floor, the two brothers lie side by side in bed, shirtless in the heat. Crimson blood seeps out from underneath the somnolent Chico, absent of any cause. Mingling a surrealist touch with the realist textures of rural Portuguese life, Pinheiro Vicente concludes O Cordeiro de Deus with a bold gesture that echoes his use of the snake anecdote in Onde o Verão Vai while displacing the allegorical flourish from the film’s beginning to its end. In both works, innocence is precious and fragile. Onde o Verão Vai is a monument to its fleeting beauty; O Cordeiro de Deus is an elegy to its loss, something that happens not once and for all, but again and again as the years pass.