“…Vila de Rei, Abrantes, Constância…” – If the long list of Portuguese towns and villages, recited in the first scene of Rio Corgo, tells us of the path that our wanderer, Mr Silva, takes on in his reconnaissance and conquest – as in finding a place, reclaiming his right – of the territory, then it surely also reflects the scope of that territory and naturally the meagre space bounded by those places – bounded by humans – reflecting on the possibility of a Portuguese western.
Vast natural landscapes, freedom in anonymity, sense of community: the most elementary traits of the classic American western are present here more as an idea than a given scenario. This is Portugal: We mostly look at and step in its limits; the possibilities aren’t endless. Still, the visual signs and narrative codes of the genre are all over a film that, on the other hand, is truly unclassifiable, unsolvable even. We will not try to solve Rio Corgo, its magnetism resides in its mystery and the absence of typology is more of a fact than an attitude or choice: the ultimate blend of real and fiction, shaped as an ouroboros where one informs the other, creating an object that lives somewhere else, a place of liberty maybe.
Mr. Silva, or Mr. Spaniard as he is sometimes also called by his neighbours stressing his otherness, is a man with a past – or many pasts and lives and people inside him – who arrives to a not-so-welcoming village, settles in an old house and befriends a teenage girl who is, as one of the younger inhabitants in the village, as otherly as he is. It’s never clear if he is just arriving or coming back, if he grew up there or made it just a regular stop in his grand tour. As it isn’t clear either who exactly is Ana, the teenage girl he will pass his legacy to or the woman with the hat he sometimes sees and later dances with or even the old lady whose ultimate wish is, in an hilarious and empowering moment, to “arrive in the village in a yellow Volkswagen, smoking a cigar and making all those dirty cows jealous”. There is no need to know details; these places and these people belong to him, that is all that matter. They care for him and cherish him. The ones who don’t are barely seen, only the good ones are allowed in Silva’s world.
Kosa and da Costa’s care for their (real) character is evident as only love could turn him into this larger than life anti-hero and create such unique and precious work. The rigorous, sometimes even austere, camera work (sharp framing, beautiful composition) the non-naturalistic dialogues and performances (at times evoking Pedro Costa’s earlier work, precisely when his mix of reality and fiction were still wrapped in classic narrative codes) and the straightforward 70’s portuguese songs of friendship and tenderness between adults, all these elements work to elevate Silvas’s life to the status of legend and the film to the matter of dreams.
In the final sequence when Silva walks in the snow, through the arid landscape of the remote Portuguese region of Trás-os-Montes, to find his rightful place to go, to disappear, Rio Corgo is fading to an end and we are left as much in a state of awe as with a feeling of refusal or impossibility to reflect about it, as if we would spoil the experience by trying to decypher it or by adding unnecessary information. Earlier, in the same type of bookending shot that superbly opens the film – again, as in a classic western set up: lonesome man arrives on foot to an isolated village with a bundle on his shoulder and the road in his Texan boots – the camera follows him, on one side flanked by a hill of dirt where the road was carved and on the other by olive trees. All looks washed and fresh, just ready to start over. This is still the other Silva, the joyful, untamed and magnificently delusional one that at some point, half way through this surreal and tender dream of freedom and oppression that Rio Corgo truly is, speaks to his other self, the sad and fading one, about the whole universe contained in a little shell.
You are all welcome to Rio Corgo, se vêm por bem.