João Bénard da Costa—Others will Love the Things I Loved
Directed by Manuel Mozos
João Bénard da Costa (1935-2009) was the director of the Portuguese Film Museum in Lisbon for 18 years, and he is responsible for what it is today. He was also a writer, poet, critic and actor. The biographical documentary about his life and work made by his fellow countryman Manuel Mozos is one of those films that defies film criticism in its conventional form. If film criticism is deficient in general for trying to speak about a medium that entails several tracks—image, dialogue, music and so on—by using a single-track medium, i.e., words, then the conventional form of film criticism can be deficient, as it is in this specific case. The history of da Costa’s life work is what it is, however poetically presented it may be—it is literally a collection of the things he loved, presented for others to love (or not): the texts he has written, parts of movies he preferred seeing, poems, paintings, photographs and so on. The director takes on the role of a curator in the collection of da Costa’s artistic and intellectual legacy, allowing us to make out the silhouette of the man himself only through the rich collection of his life work.
If we must speak about it in terms of value, then the decision to focus on da Costa’s work without what would undoubtedly be intrusively personal details is welcome, if probably unusual artistically. We come to know João Bénard da Costa mostly as a man being involved with art and with reflection on art since his young age, or as the film puts it rather romantically, as a man “being captivated as a child by mysterious and erotic power of painting”. His writings functioning as a sort of narrative of his intellectual life, narrated by his son, are accompanied by images of photographs, paintings, his favourite spots, fragments of his beloved films such as The Shop around the Corner by Ernst Lubitsch.
With that, João Bénard da Costa—Others will Love the Things I Loved raises the question of the meaning of an individual life posthumously—seeing life predominantly as a collection of writings, official documents, school certificates, collections of books, poems written, photographs taken, articles published, places visited; participating in someone’s life being made public through their legacy left behind—though far from eternal, at least somewhat extended in terms of being remembered; seeing such a life being appropriated and shared by everyone else except the person who lived it. Fond memories of a person grow through the fondness of their particular appreciations and passions for art, fuelled by the sense of mortality and transience they awaken. Besides delving into the life lived, Mozos’s biography of da Costa intertwines its melancholy, nostalgic examination of his legacy with drawing from the specificities of the media on hand. As João Bénard da Costa eloquently puts it himself in the film: “The current image that will soon cease to be, remaining so far away from its farness and as spectral as the specter used to keep dreaming. Hence their saying, that keeping the image that frame of souls with which I painted my living room, is watching death at work. This is true of still image and much truer of the moving image, film.”