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November 2020, the first year of the pandemic, saw Rita Azevedo Gomes and a group of actors and technicians retreat to a beach house in northern Portugal to make a film. The basis for their work is "Le trio en mi bémol", the only play by Éric Rohmer, that tells the tale of a man, Paul (Pierre Léon) and a woman, Adèle (Rita Durão). Separated long ago, they are reunited through their shared love of Mozart's "Kegelstatt Trio" for piano, clarinet and viola.

What emerges is not so much a film version of the play (which Rohmer himself directed for television in 1988) as a film about its filming, directed by the aging Jorge (Ado Arrieta). Film scenes, rehearsals, life on set and the director's dreams all become as indistinguishable from each other as Azevedo Gomes' and Jorge's respective films. The fiction of Azevedo Gomes' film consists of nothing less than the fictionalisation of its own production. Indeed in DIÁRIOS DE OTSOGA (2021), fellow director and namesake Miguel Gomes, alongside Maureen Fazendeiro, used Portugal's first lockdown for a similar experiment.

Decentring of male hegemony

Rita Azevedo Gomes again draws on a literary model here as in her previous, visually and discursively powerful films A VINGANÇA DE UMA MULHER (2012, after Barbey d'Aurevilly), CORRESPONDÊNCIAS (2016, after the correspondence between Jorge de Sena and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen), and A PORTUGUESA (2018, after Robert Musil). But this time she trades the unfolding of history for the present, and opulent widescreen for an intimate box format. This coincides with the minimalism in Rohmer's play, which requires just one set and two actors: Léon and Durão, both of whom the director has worked with before. Azevedo Gomes' O TRIO EM MI BEMOL (The Kegelstatt Trio) does have something of the classicism of Rohmer's films, which in this respect follow the tradition of Howard Hawks. The preferred location is an interior space, camerawork is reduced to the essentiaal: the focus is on the characters, their ideals, and relationships to each other, which are negotiated through dialogue.

At the same time, Azevedo Gomes uses the aesthetics of cinema, theatre, painting, and music to carve out a heterogeneous pictorial space that is determined by a flurrying reality, a digressive perception. Again and again, the camera explores the garden in front of the house while trees and leaves obscure the image. The formal enclosure of the static shots opens up to a floral profusion and the domestic stage spills out into an outside that extends to the nearby beach, where Jorge enjoys a nap. Azevedo Gomes' films move along a borderline where the dream takes possession of the image, or where we wake up from the dream (the fiction, the theatre, Rohmer's text) to find ourselves in the midst of the real, crazy diversity of the world (the film shoot). The fact that a filmmaker loses control over his creation in this way perpetuates the decentring of male hegemony, as Azevedo Gomes already explored with great irony in A PORTUGUESA.

Body against text

Adèle tells Paul she would rather live in a "vrai désaccord", in true disagreement or discord with him, than in a "faux accord" with others. In Azevedo Gomes' O TRIO EM MI BEMOL, Jorge's actors also seem inconsistent and out of tune with each other, like prisoners caught in an eternal rehearsal. They forget their lines, read them off the page, make mistakes, correct themselves. Nothing sounds right without Jorge telling them how it should sound. How are Paul and Adèle ever supposed to come together under these circumstances?

Like in the cinema of Straub-Huillet, the actors in Azevedo Gomes' work are first and foremost bodies in a relationship of resistance to a text that they—wrongly and out of tune—set to sound, repeat, and recite, without embodying it in any realistic sense. Either they resist it (by being disinterested and distracted), or it resists them (once it slips their mind). Otherwise, Rohmer's text is accompanied by the chirping of birds or a surprising note on a piano (itself untuned), as if it were lying unprotected in the centre of the film: permeable to all disturbing noises and actions, absorbable by all the world.

In the end credits, Azevedo Gomes thanks the participants for their "disinterested collaboration", without which the film would not have been possible. The beauty of O TRIO EM MI BEMOL lies in the disinterest it shows for the original material, which in this case is just something that's there—take it or leave it. At the end of Rohmer's play, the demonstration of love between Paul and Adèle is seconded by chance. In her fictional "making of", Azevedo Gomes focuses on the coincidence itself that bursts into the filming, as well as on the cheerfulness and elegance of Mozart's musical work, and on the happiness of being able to make a film together—from whatever template.

Philipp Stadelmaier has a doctorate in film studies from Goethe University Frankfurt and Université Paris 8, is a film critic ("Süddeutsche Zeitung", "Filmbulletin", "Sissymag", "Zeit Online") and an author.

Translation: Claire Cahm

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