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About by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
9th December 2018

‘Drifters of a Shadowy Dream’, by Paulo B. Menezes

Portugal, 2018, 67’
Original language: Portuguese
Subtitles : Portuguese
Debate: 19:40
Copy provided by Paulo B. Menezes, 2014
Presentation: Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Film financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s grant for Performance Arts



An assistant director specialized in scouting locations wanders through the reality and fiction contained in his inner world, a world that is alien to the pragmatics of the real world, and that merges in the crossroads of the characters and their roles, driven by his immense desire to direct his first feature and the difficulties inherent to it. Those are the characters that permeate its universe and provide a protective second skin to the protagonist and his inner world that is progressively closing in on itself.

Paulo B. Menezes Biography (1976, Portugal).

Born in Portugal in 1976, he developed an interest in the art at an early age, especially cinema. In 2002 he begins a record label called Plancton Music specialized in experimental music that is still active. He studied and received a degree in Cinema by Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema. Has directed a number of pieces of video art and experimental cinema that were screened in Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, UK, Romania, Austria and other countries.
In 2016 he begins work as a curator of Portuguese videoart & experimental cinema through festival Oblíqua, Videoarte & Cinema Experimental that was presented nationally and internationally. In 2018 he finishes the film ‘Drifters of a Shadowy Dream’, a full-length feature of experimental narrative.

(2018) Drifters of a Shadowy Dream
(2016) Existentia
(2016) She got the idea
(2015) Solitude
(2015) And so will our sorrows one day

Ricardo Vieira Lisboa’s review to Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation prémiere

In Cinémas d’avant-garde (2006), Nicole Brenez proposes a system for avant garde cinema identifying in it four main elements: formal freedom, political rebellion, technical and economical emancipation. They can indeed be a bit unclear and trying to find them may lead to the crystallization of methods and formal characteristics in a cinema that is meant to achieve maximum disruption. However, this kind of cinema has been called experimental, in a way to reduce to only one word an infinitude of other terms that have been used along the years by the filmmakers themselves, critics and art historians of this specific art (pure cinema, integral, absolute, surrealist, abstract, geometrical, marginal, damned, cine-poem, poetry cinema, art film, visionary film, film as film, etc. – a list made by Frederico Lopes in the commendable article of 2012, Cinema Experimental Português. Perspetivar o futuro.

Experimentation is very dear to Portuguese cinema in its whole, since it is, as Paulo Rocha has described it to Henri Langlois in three adjectives: anarchic, artisanal, and visual. Still, there were those who tried to develop a practice of intense experimentation, especially during the 1960’s. They were inspired by the North-American vanguard, that produced works aligned with other arts. Such filmmakers were: Ernesto de Sousa, António Palolo, Ernesto Melo e Castro, Noronha da Costa, Helena Almeida, Vasco Lucena, Julião Sarmento… However, it is yet to be made the story of the Portuguese“author’s film”. Being that with video and then later with digital, that reality fragmented itself into many different visions.

This introduction serves the purpose of framing the work of Paulo B. Menezes. A director that guides himself through the characteristics mentioned above (formal freedom, political rebellion, technical and economical emancipation, anarchy, artisanal and visuality). After attending Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema, in 2003, the director distances himself from the more classical and narrative teachings of Cinema’s school and initiates a series of video explorations. Among those works, there is the Deceptive series, a collection that has been aggrandized for more than a decade and that contains different approaches in the concept of extended time (using the loop method in its presentation at galleries).

O barquinho (2014, pilot episode of the series?), Cloud (my emotions flow sideways like crabs) (2007), Futuro Imperfeito (2007), Jardim interior sintético (2008), Hirondelles sur un rideau de nuages (fenêtres sélectives de la pensée) (2010) ‘and so will our sorrows one day’ (2015) are some of the works that feature that approach.
Specifically: a suspension of time over an element (a sailboat, a flag waving in the wind, the clouds, flying swallows, some flowers near the edges of a road, waves crashing in). These elements that break away from the whole, as well as the longing gaze (or the constant random cuts and camera jumps) reveal another nature which is purely iconic, elemental.

The boat becomes a childhood memory, the flag a sign, the clouds turn to spots, the swallows make up a choreography and the flowers and sea become pictures, likewise, expressionists and impressionists. A strategy that the filmmaker may have collected, certainly, from the pioneer work of the Fluxus movement, the films by Andy Warhol or filmmakers like James Benning.

And so, we arrive at ‘Drifters of a Shadowy Dream’, the first full-length of this filmmaker – after his documental video-installation that clocks above four hours Existentia (2016). Even though its duration, the fiction is also present in this film. Of course, that the narrative is very loose and unconstrained, for example, the characters do not have names (he is X, she is Y), and everything builds itself in a day to day life without major events and a strong desire for romance that is headed to frustration.
It looks like what most matters to Paulo B. Menezes is to give place to all the potentialities of cinema as an art that contains all the others, since all of them are present directly or indirectly.

In the first shots of the film, X watches (us) through two concentric frames of a window of a building in ruins and photographs (us). The shot appears to be a presentation from the filmmaker of the mirror labyrinth, framing and over-framing that we are about to witness during the film. In more than an hour, we will see sparkling landscapes as that of a Van Gogh painting, and landscapes distorted by water as in a Turner’s painting; we will enter the dark stage of the theatre to listen to the words of Marguerite Duras in Détruire, dit-elle (1968); immersing ourselves in the romantic architecture of Teatro Trindado painted gold, white and carmine but also the very typical Portuguese architecture of Café Estádio; we’ll visit second-hand bookshops; we’ll hear the description of a novel and a film script; we’ll witness a “happy ending” inspired literally in a projection By Lourdes Castro e René Bertholo; and we’ll dream a film noir by Arthur Ripley.

One of the most surprising aspects of ‘Drifters of a Shadowy Dream’ is how it plays with these two realities that are usually kept separate: the depressive banality of day to day life and an hypothesis of sublimation. X, played by Cláudio da Silva lives a life of mere sustenance, filled with solitude, humiliations, and Sovina beers. A life that can be described as Y (Catarina Wallenstein) talks about an idea of a book “I have a character and a starting line”, “a story without emphasis or highlights”.
But as explained further along, in that same monologue, as a self-analysis moment (as well as the theater play present further in the film or the dialogue about the results of the contest for subsidy of film production), he lives “in a world filled with characters from books and movies that entertain him. Like a “Drifter of a Shadowy Dream”. This is the gateway that perforates the banality of X’s life, a world of fantasy (of films but much else) that invades slowly his reality and infects it with potentialities, even if they seem unreachable.

It all begins with the water made to be a mirror, later a jukebox at a corner, the window of a boat turns into a screen, a short shot of the ocean makes up for the imagination of an island closed for vacations – “It is indeed curious when an island is closed…” – , afterwards everything consolidates itself with the invention of an extremely classic McGuffin in a spy’s conspiracy (with the mute presence of Manuel Mozos and Joana de Verona) who traffic reels of old films – as the filmmaker himself has done in previous works such as ‘She got the idea’ (2016), The high seas drifter (2016) or the incomplete ‘love’ (draft) (2010). Therefore, it persists a nostalgic anachronism that adorns the horror of the precarious condition of an artist and its city (Oliveira would recognize himself in this), specially in our days when Lisbon is invaded by tourists and the city is beginning to turn unrecognizable due to an economic monoculture, this film by Paulo B. Menezes presents itself of a testimony of what happened before that process: the slowly decaying of urban patrimony and the destruction of local businesses and houses. In that regard, the film is also an important document about life in the capital, seen through the base of the intimacy of a bed, a couple, and a bedside conversation – as like, in a way Falling light (2005).

This social-political conversation made through the practice of experimentation was also present in Existencia, in Song for Chechnya (Je n’ai que trois minutes) but somehow more prominent in the filmmaker’s work as a curator (through the Oblíqua project, the other facet of Paulo B. Menezes as a promoter of videoart and experimental cinema) in the Portuguese delegation at W:OW: We are One World where he stated: “we’re here in what we have in common, our refusal to let things be what they are now.”.
‘Drifters of a Shadowy Dream’ is in the end a film that works reduction to a minimum. A bar constructs itself through a glass with ice cubes, a house is a mattress laid on the floor, an elevator imitates an office, a green curtain makes for a train railway, and a paper leads us to France.

At the bottom of everything, Paulo B. Menezes works the essential within cinema’s formulas, trying to achieve its (un)crystallization – and that is a typical operation of the so-called experimental cinema, the return to the primitive and the foundations of cinema. It ends with a train (arriving or leaving?) as in the first Lumière’s projections, where La Ciotat is Santa Apolónia and where the hope for a new century (and a new art) shattered in a muted despair. Or how it is said at certain point “It’s hard to make movies these days, about tragic characters. The naïve of the gaze was lost in the conscience of ourselves.”

Ricardo Vieira Lisboa


‘Drifters of a Shadowy Dream’ is the third premiere of films that were made through financial support given by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation for the production of Portuguese contemporary cinema and is presented by Ricardo Vieira Lisboa. In September of 2017 there were also two films screened at Sala Polivalente da Coleção Moderna – Aos Nossos Amigos de Afonso Mota (premiere) e A Fábrica de Nada de Pedro Pinho (national exhibit).

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