It all begins with some old film reels, memories of a trip: A group of elegant people ventures among the Red Guards, smiling, exchanging greetings, playfully looking at the camera. And yet these frames have something special, starting from the year in which they were shot, 1966: China was going through the Cultural Revolution and it wasn’t likely for Western tourists to be freely able to enter the country. Especially if, as in this case, they weren’t part of a Western Communist Party delegation, but rather belonged to the opposite political view.
The person filming the group is João Moreira Salles’s mother, a lady of the Brazilian upper-middle class strongly opposed to revolutionary ideas, to the point that they had decided to move back to their country from Paris — where they fled after the military coup in Brazil — when the events of May 1968 broke out.
Starting from those apparently neutral images, Salles built his No intenso agora, which debuted in February at the Berlinale (it was in competition at Panorama Dokumenta) and is now competing in Paris at the Festival Cinéma du Réel. From 1966 China, it takes us to the images of 1968. France, Prague, Brazil: Salles, who also provides the voiceover narration, looks for the same spaces as in his mother’s images, the melancholy hiding behind joy, the trace of defeat in the enthusiasm of the moment, the intensity of a “now” which already bears its future decline.