One generally associates something dramatic, visceral and even out of the ordinary – with the possible emergence of startling disclosures – with reverse narrative chronology in cinema… after all, there’s something flamboyant about it. Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes’ The Tsugua Diaries (“tsugua” being literally “august” spelled in reverse) was the very antithesis of that idea, and therefore diametrically removed from films that’ve resorted to this formal device, e.g. Memento, The Sweet Hereafter, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Irreversible, Sinq Fois Deux, etc. It had its share of simmering drama and unforeseen revelations too, and yet was such a seemingly breezy, freewheeling, carefree, improvisational and loosely structured work – and filled with such a lazy elegance – that it almost defied the formal rigour of filmmaking in general and such a punctilious narrative choice in particular. The film began with a dazzling and immersive sequence where its three main characters – Crista (Crista Alfaiate), Carloto (Carloto Cotta), and João (João Nunes Monteiro) – are seen dancing and enjoying over music and blazing colourful lights in a room. It immediately informed the strained character dynamics and gradually established the premise that they’re stuck in a tranquil and isolated country-house during Covid-19 lockdown. Over the course of August – where the days runs backward as indicated through vibrant cards – we observe them transforming a shabby place into something lovely by cleaning the pool, building a beehouse, arranging plants, flirting and lazing around. Eventually, the artifice behind the enchanting holiday is revealed – the fact that this is essentially a film-within-film, and the three are actors – thus adding sly, self-reflexive metanarrative to this befuddling yet playful pandemic movie. The alternatively sun-soaked and flashy cinematography added to its mystifying charm.
Director: Maureen Fazendeiro & Miguel Gomes
Genre: Drama/Experimental Film