Arsenal – Institut für Film und Videokunst e.V. > living archive > projects > archive außer sich (2017–2020) > Archival Assembly #1 > Program > Trópicos Mecânicos / Mechanic Tropics (Mueda)

Trópicos Mecânicos / Mechanic Tropics (Mueda)

© Felipe Bragança

Performance by Felipe Bragança in collaboration with Teatro Griot and Catarina Wallenstein, with a warm up conversation with Felipe Bragança and Catarina Simão
with Catarina Wallenstein, Matamba Joaquim, Zia Soares, Giovanni Lourenço, Daniel Martinho
Sep 1, 2021 22:00 Arsenal Cinema

"Trópicos mecânicos" is a stage and video performance informed by shared mystical imaginaries and historical material related to the 1960 Mueda Massacre – a brutal and decisive event early in Mozambique’s war of independence from Portugal. This proposal is for a poetic and imaginative approach that mixes speculative fiction and documentary to reflect the layers of time – past, present, and future – that form a cinematic image. Also central is the film MUEDA, MEMÓRIA E MASSACRE, directed by Ruy Guerra in 1979, an important influence on the contemporary memory of this historical event. What will be presented is a 25 minute work-in-progress fragment of the new performance project, with the event doubling as a tribute to Ruy Guerra in the same month he celebrates his ninetieth birthday.

MUEDA, MEMÓRIA E MASSACRE was presented as part of the International Forum of New Cinema in 1979 (nowadays: Berlinale Forum, Forums catalog page, German only). The film was digitized by Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art in collaboration with Cinemateca Portuguesa and published on DVD.


Trópicos Mecânicos / Mechanic Tropics – Fragments of Imagination Around the Mueda Massacre and Ruy Guerra's Film

Text by Felipe Bragança (a Brazilian floating between Rio and Lisboa), August 2021

1. Yes. This is about cinema and memory. But not about the memory of cinema, or about cinema as a mediator of images that we want to keep with us. It's about the flesh of bodies that traverse time inside images. Not images of a survival (that would take care of us), but images of a destruction ( that expels us, disrupts our senses of life). Ruy Guerra's master film MUEDA, MEMÓRIA E MASSACRE is more than a portrait of a time, or a portrait of a theater play, it is an image that spits out other images, that projects images beyond what we can see. The art of the theater of death puls-es in all its bittersweetness. It pulses beyond the document.

2. I was there in Cabo Delgado province, Mueda region, in 2017. I saw wide open hands with ruby red stones in front of my eyes asking who I was and what I wanted. I saw the signs and logos of Chinese and French companies arriving in the region with a violent progress proudness and blind-ness. I saw long roads cutting through a huge red dirty land. So many people crossing roads, carry-ing rocks and potencial richness on their backs, looking forward to something that never comes in the horizon. A certain air of a very old and very worn desire for future hovers the Northern air of Mozambique. A future, I would say, as old as it is past (or even older …). Between the memories of the anti-colonial victory in the 70s and the failure confronting the brutal violence of neocolonialism in the 2000s, the same region, the same city, the same name is repeated: Mueda. And, in another way, a feeling of present, of presence, that becomes more and more rare in our days made of projec-tions and shadows.

3. Mueda, with all its theater and its ghosts, has this feeling of projecting a touching shadow. The dry lands of the Makonde people, whisper words and images of a fable made of a future that never comes – but is there already, in the underground, beyond the mirrors, looking at us. The pulse of this science-fiction (magic-fiction) visual performance is a gesture not to speculate what's to come from that past – but to deepen who and what we already are as projections of images now. Mueda, in Ruy Guerra’s film, is a vibrating surface where every photogram is an infinity of layers colliding, meeting times, pushing realities. Between the daily death of the acetate (that gets old every second) and the death of the pulsating imitation of the life of modern cinema, Ruy Guerra’s film is a chime-ra of power and melancholy, of revolutionary invention and fragile portrait. A chimera were the invention is depicted, the real is invented. And neither can be called original, authentic or pure.

4. What we will be presenting here in Berlin is a fragment of a fictional prospection. A fable around a fictional character we invented while crossing the Mozambican roads and Ruy Guerra’s film frames: Mishek, a Mozambican man, a man-machine, with the desire and the power to touch the images of the memories that haunt him since the 1960 massacre … With the desire to interrupt the past reality (or maybe just the film?) and recreate the future. Could the difference of memory and future only be a matter of image surfaces? Of different crossing fusion of frames? A matter of lay-ers? Of scale and/or camera position? Maybe just a matter of desire? (And, in the end, not a matter of time? …) Could time traveling be decided in the editing room?

5. When I was meeting with Ruy Guerra last June in Rio de Janeiro, where he lives since the 1980s, we talked about life, about memories and movies – and just a little about his MUEDA shooting – a film that, in fact, he doesn’t feel anymore as his. Ruy, a Mozambican, grew up in the African coun-try and left his homeland to study cinema in Paris. After some years living in Brazil, where he be-came a famous and awarded filmmaker, in the 1970s, he returned to Mozambique to help in the revolutionary process of his country, to help finish overthrow Portuguese colonialism and create a united image to the new-born nation he dreamed about since he was a young boy. A 90 years old white man, smart eyes, smoking his cigar, told me some stories of his walks through the small towns of Mozambique while filming the revolutionary meetings of Samora Machel (the independ-ence leader) when trying to put together an idea of an united nation after the expel of the Portu-guese/European exploitation. His eyes sparkled when he spoke about it under the tropical trees in Rio de Janeiro. A glow that only ceased when I asked him if he didn't feel like making another film in Mozambique today, at the age of 90. Maybe the last time he would go back to his homeland? After a glimpse of silence, he told me “yes,” but confessed that he didn't feel like he knew Mozam-bique anymore. Deep down, he told me, he doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere. “I am floating in the Atlantic Ocean” he said. We laughed.

6. Floating over our heads as an expanding universe, Guerra's film that inspired us is not a thread to be stretched before our eyes, but a territory where one can step, walk, reflect and imagine other things. In this performance fragment, we try to highlight this point: MUEDA, MEMÓRIA E MAS-SACRE is not an object that came out of a machine, it is not just a product of its time. It is itself a time machine, a gear creating projection of faces, bodies, voices in a territory. A machine that ex-pands letting a thick fluid come out from another dimension (Hopeful? Revolutionary?) that flows between its images and fragments. In the end, time traveling we will be talking about is not a dis-cussion of who we are (would identities be only projections?), but a matter of where and when we are. Even if our territories are not concrete and touchable (if we are refugees of a system, of a Euro-centric form of living, of a hegemonic cinematographic language), time traveling will always be a matter of mixing places. A friction of forms of lives. Of frames that can explode time.

7. MECHANIC TROPICS (MUEDA), the fragment we will present, is a reflection about the repeti-tion of gestures, of personal and cultural memories, and the projections of the Future as a desire for freedom but also as a cultural and historical prison. The performance fragment proposes the friction between these two gestures: the fabled invention of a futurism full of self-doubt, and the memory of a film whose realistic portrait is already the reminiscence of a film that has never been seen in its full and original version. Actors and actresses, on stage or in pre-recorded images, simulate, emu-late, imitate and imagine the possibility of fraying the silvery reality of a film pointing to everything it does not show yet. The future, here, does not come from the news, but from the mechanical and repetitive reconstruction of gestures, voices and words – images that can intuit that there is much more future than memory in each revisited image. In every archive rediscovered.

8. The complete version of this performance will be presented for the first time in Lisboa in October during BoCA (Bienal of Contemporary Arts), to whom we thank the invitation and support. This project is also a celebration of Ruy Guerra’s 90th birthday – and a homage to all Ruy Guerra’s ver-sions we hope to meet in our time-space travels: the one from the past, the one from the present and the one from the future.