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The Last Time I Saw Macao | DVD Review

The Last Time I Saw Macao João Pedro Rodrigues João Rui Guerra da Mata DVDCo-directors João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata are first and foremost cinephiles, and make no bones about invoking the classic Josef von Sternberg and Nicholas Ray directed, Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell starred RKO feature, Macao, throughout their own shapeshifting exploration of the post-Portuguese protean city. But The Last Time I Saw Macao is much more than just an homage to beloved cinema greats. Like it’s cinematic ancestor, the film delves into the darkness of film noir, but it also passes like a shadow from underground thriller to personal documentary, city symphony to action shoot-out at any given moment, all while acting as a cinematic travelogue for Guerra da Mata, who grew up in Macao, but hasn’t been back in thirty years.

In the last three decades the city has changed quite a bit, and in the film’s parallel universe, it’s fallen into shadow and is now in the hands of a mysterious cult overlord known as Madame Lobo, or, more prominently, The Dragon. Though never fully appearing on screen, Guerra da Mata plays a version of himself, revisiting the city after his lengthy absence in search of an old friend and trans-burlesque performer named Candy (played with panache by real life performer Cindy Scrash). It seems Candy has found herself to be collateral damage, knowing too much about the deeds of The Dragon by way of her lover who recently was slain in the crossfire of what was supposed to be a harmless round of war games. After Candy’s sultry introduction with a lip-synched performance of Russell’s take on ‘You Kill Me’, she’s kidnapped, only appearing, like nearly everyone else in the film, by phone or letter for the remaining runtime. In fact, nearly everything pertinent to the film’s narrative propulsion takes place in the opulently produced sound design and just out of frame (most likely to keep costs to a minimum and characters as anonymous as possible).

Guerra da Mata tasks himself with rescuing his fearful friend, but it seems he’s at odds with not only this mysterious Dragon, but the city itself. No longer familiar with its amorphous layout, Macao swallows him up and sends him hopelessly wandering the streets and shops, waterways and shores. By allowing the camera to linger on these landscapes and byways, the narrative begins to blur into observatory cultural examination. Wild dogs and other creatures roam the city while people go about their daily business as if nothing is wrong, but there is a swelling air of dread about. In melancholic voice over, Guerra da Mata reflects on his struggle to find Candy in a city he authentically no longer feels at home in, once again weaving fiction and fact to wondrous effect.

With its lo-fi aesthetic and self-knowingly campy off-screen action, The Last Time I Saw Macao may at first confound, its true intentions initially obscured by its directors’ genre blending tendencies, but endure and within is a richly layered film noir that recalls not just von Sternberg and Ray, but Chris Marker’s travelogue masterpiece, San Soleil, documenting personal experience through cinematic transgressions. Rodrigues & Guerra da Mata ask us to get lost with them, wander Macao with fresh eyes, a head full of memories and just enough fear to keep us on edge.

Disc Review:

It’s not surprising to find that The Cinema Guild has treated João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata latest work with the utmost care. The digitally shot film contains a wide range of imagery, with primarily a documentary aesthetic that ranges from ultra close-up night time shoots to ultra wide days, nearly everything statically framed. The image generally looks good, showing crisp detail and a natural color palette. Being that nearly all of the narrative takes place in the sound design, it’s wonderful to find the audio pumping through a robust Dolby Digital 5.1 track. On board the standardly packaged disc is plenty of great extras to boot.

In Conversation with directors João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata
Interviewed at the Melbourne International Film Festival, the directors discuss their connection with Macao, Guerra da Mata’s upbringing in the city, and how the narrative evolved as their chosen local seemed to be telling them stories. 30 min

Red Dawn (2011)
Acting as a sort of foreboding documentary precursor to The Last Time, as well as a grotesque memorial to the late Macao actress Jane Russell, this short doc looks at a Macao meat market, a sort of mundane horror show where we see butchery as a normal part of life and death. 30 min

Mahjong (2013)
Like Guerra da Mata seeking Candy in The Last Time, this time he’s prowling the streets of Macao looking for what seems to be his lover. An obscure mystery of highheels, headlights, manikins and shoot-outs starring the directors themselves. 36 min

Theatrical Trailer
A mysteriously sensuous trailer for a mysteriously sensuous film. 2 min

A lovely little foldover page featuring a magnificently insightful essay on the film titled The Dragon Has Spoken by TIFF programmer James Quandt.

Final Thoughts:

Rodrigues & Guerra da Mata continue to fascinate with their genre blending takes on their own personal fascinations. Noir meets travelogue via burlesque dancing and underground gangs, all accented by a set of thoughtful extras and a quality A/V presentation.

Film: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

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