Set against the Portuguese Colonial War in the harsh East Angola during the 1970s, LETTERS FROM WAR (as the title would imply) is structured around a series of letters between medical doctor António (Miguel Nunes) and his pregnant wife Maria José (Margarida Vila-Nova) back home. Maria José is rarely seen, but for angelic glimpses of her filtered through memory, but she is constantly present. It is her lilting voice that narrates the melancholy series of poetic letters, filled with passionate and stirring language, even as the vision shows us the horrors of what António is seeing. As António’s optimism and politics being to change and darken, and his camp starts to go a little mad in the repetition of combat, it’s the letters that are the only marking of the passing of time. “Words are little,” muses one missive, “while absence is long.” Sharply reminiscent of Tabu, and not just because of the stunning black and white photography from João Ribeiro, the thematic dissection of Portuguese colonialism and the follies of war carries an equal amount of gravity to it. The music swells and falls, taken from composers like Gyorgy Ligeti, betraying the inner angst of António’s inner turmoil against his heartfelt language. As the film and its lead comes to a resolution, the elaborate mix of shades and textures will continue to wash over the viewer, much as the spectre of colonialism still hangs over Portugal.
2016 | Portugal | DIR: Ivo M. Ferreira | WRITERS: Ivo. M. Ferreira, Edgar Medina | CAST: Miguel Nunes, Margarida Vila-Nova, Ricardo Pereira | DISTRIBUTOR: Sydney Film Festival (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes | RATING: ★★★★ (8/10)