18 + Os Inúteis + Para Norte
Lendl Barcelos
April 8, 2024

I don't have wishes.

The coming-of-age story will always be a classic: a proclamation of the transformative moments that lie between adolescence and adulthood. With each generation and social circumstance having its own set of general preoccupations, these narratives offer us a snapshot of the particular psychophysical atmosphere and habitus at play. The films of Rui Esperança revolve around friendship and post-adolescence, offering us portraits of a white Portuguese middle class on the cusp of adulthood.

A running theme of all these films is the reluctance and anxiety of departure as a group of friends prepare to embark on separated life paths. In 18, we get a close-up look at a few pivotal moments preceding the (in)decisions encountered by a group of teens as they near the end of their high school journeys. The pursuit of higher education becomes intricately linked to the selection of courses and the maintenance of a certain grade average. The initiation into being an adult becomes shaped by considerations of employability and the prevailing demands of the job market. The prospect of emigration also weighs heavily, adding another layer of complexity to these unknown futures. As they contemplate the possibility of moving away from their shared hometown, the bonds of friendship are saturated with the anticipation of separation and the uncertainty of maintaining connexions across distance. This is a lot to deal with for anyone.

Gone is the era when a pre-formatted path secured the blueprint for a life: one generally following a heteronormative sequence from birth, through school, high school, university, career, marriage, kids, mid-life crises, and ultimately death. And yet, the rigid structure of the educational system is supposed to prepare these students for whatever lies ahead. If only a decade prior the millennials had been warned of the slow cancelation of their future, the films of Rui Esperança render situations where the future of the Gen Z youth has already been cancelled. This is a listless era surrounded by soon-to-be absent friends and an explicit lack of wishes. None of this comes as a critique, not of the previous generation nor of the current one. If every formalized stage of life once offered a clear trajectory, today's landscape seems marked by ambiguity and a sense of aimlessness.

The narratives in Rui Esperança's work predominantly unfold thru close framing. This mirrors the characters' lack of enthusiasm towards what's to come, which they rationalize within the confines of their immediate experiences. Any hint of broader socioeconomic or ecological contexts — such as global affairs or a wider perspective — is only subtly hinted at, as the focus remains firmly on the intimate dynamics within the close-knit circle of a little bubble of friends. For example, in Para Norte, clues of a larger context emerge thru the attendance at a series of music festivals, yet the surrounding festival-goers remain blurred out, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the characters' more private moments, whether that be hanging out at the campsite or losing themselves in dance. But, we never explicitly get a sense of their contextual situation, nor any of their wider concerns. In fact, we never see these characters do anything: they hang out, chat, worry about the future, dance a little, and wait for their adulthood to bloom.

There is a delicate purity in these post-adolescent portrayals. Few adults feature in these films. In 18, we catch glimpses of a teacher, a counsellor, as well as a security guard and the waitstaff attending to the teens during their prom. Similarly, Os Inúteis provides only a fleeting and indistinct look at what might be one of the character's fathers seated on a couch in the background. These adults — barely seen — serve as the hidden support structures of these middle class teens, who are able to wallow in unknown futures, often forgetting that their lives are enabled by a larger network of interdependence and subtle privilege.

The docu-fictional mode of Rui Esperança never quite gives away its status as reality, fiction, or perhaps lying somewhere in-between. In each film, we are offered a fly-on-the-wall perspective of a group of friends finding their way thru formative moments in their lives — whether that be a departure or a return. As these young adults grapple with the uncertainties of their impending adulthood, we are invited to reflect on our own journeys of self-discovery and growth.

Lendl Barcelos
Lendl Barcelos is a sound artist, “kataphysician” and DJ, interested in exploring the vibrating matters, often of the aural dimension, even when these occur beyond normative human limits. Alongside Tarek Atoui, Allison O'Daniel, Myriam Lefkowitz & Valentina Desideri, he was part of the Council's Infinite Ear project, based on the premise that deafness constitutes a specialisation in sound. His work has been presented at Biennale Architettura XVIII (Venice), Centrocentro (Madrid), Garage (Moscow), Inkonskt (Malmo), Q-O₂ (Brussels), Pedreira (Porto), and has been published by Urbanomic, re:press, MIT and Norient.

Batalha Centro de Cinema

Praça da Batalha, 47
4000-101 Porto


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