Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Lisbon Story (1994) - Wim Wenders

When my father died I had the unenviable task of clearing out his flat. I had put it off for as long as I could but eventually the warden at the tower block where my father spent his final years, gently urged me to sort through his stuff before the local authority came in and did the job for me. My darling mother, although divorced from my father, offered to help me and one sunny, Sunday morning we tackled the task together.

It was an awesome task. My father's monastic living arrangements belied cupboards stuffed with clothes, books, bags, CD's and DVD's. Not that he ever watched any of the DVD's. Despite owning a DVD player, he had never figured out how to work it, so it lay under the television still in it's box, waiting for someone to take it away again. We spent the day sorting through his belongings, putting aside things that I thought my sisters might want; things I wanted (a watch, a leather wallet, the throw from his armchair because it retained his essence); sacks and sacks of redundant paperwork; suitcases full of clothing for the charity shop. Amongst his many CD's I came across the soundtrack for the film 'Lisbon Story', directed by Wim Wenders. The Portuguese group, Madredeus, had written and recorded the music for the film and as I lay in bed that night I played the CD in the dark stillness of my bedroom. My father was Portuguese and I had been partly brought up in Portugal so as the music filled my room I cried as I had never cried before or since. I cried for my father, with whom I had never really gotten on; for my sisters, who missed him with every beat of their hearts; for Portugal and my family over there; and for my longing to return to Lisbon, where my father was happiest. The music became the soundtrack to my relationship with my father, our culture and Portugal. It's haunting melodies transported me to the land of my forefathers, my family and, I hoped, my future. 

Recently I decided I was ready to see the film. I thought it would be difficult to find but it wasn't. Having watched a few clips on YouTube, I simply went on to Amazon, typed 'Lisbon Story' into the search bar and there it was, in several different formats and languages. I bought the appropriate version and 48 hours later I was sitting in front of the television, crying softly into my father's throw whilst the most beautiful film I have seen in a long time played out in my living room.

Essentially, it is a film about film-makers. A foley artist receives a postcard from a friend, Friedrich, who is making a film in Lisbon, inviting him to record the soundtrack for the film. By the time the foley artist, Phil, gets to Lisbon from Germany, Friedrich is nowhere to be found. Phil gets on with the task of recording the sound effects whilst waiting for his friend to turn up. He is befriended by some children who purport to be helping Friedrich with the film, and it transpires that the house in which Friedrich had been installed and Phil was now staying in, is owned by the beautiful Teresa, lead singer of the group Madredeus, who are providing the music to accompany the film. Phil falls in love; Friedrich turns up eventually, having had an epiphany; and the two friends finish making the film together. It is a charming and engaging film, full of wonderful little moments that play out in one's mind again and again. It's philosophy is light yet meaningful, without falling into the trap of trying to be too clever or high brow for the average viewer. I have since watched it several times and get something new from it on every occasion. I can now watch it without weeping, and instead I get a wonderful warm glow as I watch a film my father never saw but brought me to, about a city to which he never returned but always loved.

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