Susana Nobre • Director of Jack's Ride
"The static camera corresponds best to the way I think of the images and the sequences"
by Teresa Vena
- BERLINALE 2021: The Portuguese director presented her documentary with fictional elements in this year's Forum section
Portuguese director Susana Nobre created, with Jack's Ride [+see also:
interview: Susana Nobre
film profile], a mix between a road movie, a social critique and a portrait of a truly captivating character. She presented her documentary about Joaquim, who was an immigrant in the USA in the 1970s, at this year's Berlinale (March 1-5) in the Forum section. She talked to us about the absurd levels bureaucracy can reach, her aesthetic concept for the film and her relationship with Joaquim.
Cineuropa: How did you find Joaquim?
Susana Nobre: In 2008, Portugal faced a deep economical and financial crisis. Back then, I worked as part of an educational program at a governmental unemployment centre, helping people who lost their job to train for the job market. The level of instruction is very low in Portugal and the program aimed to help people with a low education rise to a higher level. I knew I wanted to do a film about this experience there. Then I met Joaquim, who was an employee who got fired just a short while before he could actually retire. We talked a lot and as in the first scene in the film, I was his counsellor in the program.
How did you work? Did you have a script or was there space for improvisation?
I had a script with a lot of elements and scenes. At the beginning, I had too many ideas and it took a lot of time in the editing process to find the end form. I knew I would have a voiceover from the start, though. And the dialogues were written by Joaquim, the protagonist, himself. The film is very biographical, but not entirely either. Some scenes are composed of dialogues I picked up between the protagonists.
There are a few scenes which can be sensed as a debasement for Joaquim. Did you have this impression, too, and did Joaquim complain or react to how he was being treated? In the film, we see him as someone educated and apparently serene.
Joaquim is very supportive. He is of modest origins, his parents, his birthplace and his experience as an immigrant all formed his character. What is interesting about him is that, as much as he can be calm and nice on the one hand, he can be very rude on the other. When people don't fit into his ethical values, he loses all his politeness. With me, he has been very fatherly and careful. But we also had a lot of discussions on some specific topics.
Your film shows that the measures implemented by the government are completely inflexible and do not adapt to fit different situations. It doesn't make much sense that Joaquim needs to find a job so shortly before his retirement, for example.
It's completely absurd. Here, reality supplies a great narrative. A lot of people who are unemployed, most of them elderly, are not able to use the Internet. In this case, they are forced just as Joaquim to visit potential employers one by one, to get stamps from them to prove that they searched for work and to do a lot of paperwork. This situation was the trigger to let Joaquim wander around and go on his own journey. Around this trip, I placed his memories.
The scene in the classroom where a man greets everybody in an African language is very powerful. Is it real?
Well, I witnessed this kind of scene a lot. The idea is that successful business people hold a motivating speech for the unemployed. At one of these presentations, I met Antonio. He agreed to reproduce one of these shows he does as an entrepreneur in front of an audience for the film. We staged the session he holds, but I didn't want to make fun of him, since he really believes in it. He didn't exactly understand in which direction it would go in the film. And so it was a bit delicate to make it humorous but not ridiculous.
What was your aesthetic concept? You mostly work with a steady camera, which underlines Joaquim's character.
I am fascinated by the use of handheld cameras by certain directors. For example Frederick Wiseman was very important to me when I started with filmmaking. But I learned to work more with a static camera. It is the one I can better control. The static camera corresponds best to the way I think of the images and the sequences.
When Joaquim recalls his time in the USA, he is full of passion. Did he go back there after he came back to Portugal? He must be known all over the place because of his style.
He never went back to the US after coming home to Portugal. Yes, he is the eccentric, slightly crazy guy of the area. His style was apparently very common among the immigrants of the 1970s, for the Portuguese at least. Joaquim is always like this.
The film is a combination of several different things. It is a road movie, a critique of bureaucracy and of the welfare system, as well as a portrait of a singular person and the story of a friendship. Did you know from the start that it would be all this? Which of these elements is the most important to you?
It's the portrait of a complex character. Someone who is very kind and supportive, eccentric, sophisticated in his way and open-minded. At the same time he can be very rude, too. I wanted to show that a lot of things define a person. It's also a film about the economic situation of a country and the story of immigration to America.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.