Red Dawn (João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata, 2011)

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Alvorada VermelhaRed Dawn

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata

28 minutes, 2011

A documentary on a meat market in Macao evokes question of life, death and morality.

Opening with a high heeled shoe in foreground in a presentation of the mundane, we are introduced to our world under the pretense of new perspectives. More than just documentary, this film is shaped and formed by associations, magical tangents and powerful compositions. The film’s first part anticipates the meat market with baroque compositions, reminders perhaps of Vermeer and the works of the Renaissance. They are contemporary locales, composed using variations on single and multiple point perspective, which brings poetry and discomfort to the documentary footage. It takes almost ten minutes for it to become apparent that we are in a meat market, and the film takes on new meanings as we plunge into a world unseen in the West.

It is difficult not to associate this whole middle section of Red Dawn with Georges Franju’s pivotal 1947 film, Le sang des bêtes. More than just documentary, Franju made troubling implications regarding the Holocaust, suggesting that the horrors of an industry of death were not so foreign to our contemporary world. His animal “victims” were animals like calves, sheep and a white steed. They were noble animals; animals we can believe have souls. In contrast, the animals featured here are primarily fish and chickens. Animals we take for granted as lacking in spirit and soul. It is really the magic of this film that we come to see them as something more, evocations of the battles between life and death, visual and spiritual representations of the afterlife.

These considerations are evoked through an early, mysterious image of a mermaid. It is barely visible, a faint reflection in the water. Opposed to Franju’s leading voice of God, here we have the evocation of meaning through a magical image. We are drawn into a new way of thinking about this world. Is this a fantasy, a dream or a recollection? Is it even documentary? We watch as the various fish and chickens are butchered, and the camera lingers on “dead bodies” still struggling, moving and breathing. We are forced to think of our own physical form, its impermanence and its connection to our own souls. Is there life after death? And like the fish, is it suffering? Perhaps we are not the noble white steed from Franju but a fish or a chicken: meaningless and powerless. On the other hand, maybe we have just not paused to see the beauty in the simplicity of these animal forms. Perhaps our idea of nobility is misplaced and it is not in the strong and the beautiful where spirituality lies, but in the weak. Again, coming back to Franju’s industry of death, perhaps we must consider the victims of genocide in this light. To understand that there does not exist a hierarchy of man and animal, that we are all equal in death, therefore in life as well.

This film is included in the box set 10 Curtas Metragens Portuguesas – 10 Portuguese Short Films Vol. 2 (2012)

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