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SHORT FOCUS 2019: José [João Monteiro, Portugal, 2019]

One family, a silver necklace, a dustbin lorry and an icy lake are arguably all equally important characters in João Monteiro’s short piece, José. Although this is a film that evades easy interpretation, themes of secrecy, trauma and mourning are clearly interwoven in a story laden with symbolism.

What stands out throughout the film is a disquieting feeling that something is being said and withdrawn at the same time. The combination of the characters’ reticence and the cold imagery of silver and a wintery lake suggest that there is something lying frozen beneath the surface. The heart of the story feels as though it is layered in ice. "Remember what I never confessed in silence", is one of the eloquently enigmatic lines that capture this liminal space between hiding and revealing.

Oh, brother. Where art thou...?

The sexual scene between the older brother and a much older man opens up a lot of questions. Notably, this is the only scene that eschews the chilly palette of the rest of the film and is instead flooded with warm reds and pinks. While this suggests the warmth of affection and passion, its context of buried trauma and family history make it more complex and more disturbing.

Although much of the story remains shrouded in words unspoken, there is a sense of drowning at the end of the short. The necklace lies half submerged in murky waters, and the brother steps through a doorway to meet a woman wearing a mourning dress. They embrace in front of a deep turquoise wall, and it’s almost as if they have submerged themselves in the frosty lake that features so heavily throughout the short.

José is a quietly mysterious film that definitely merits several watches. Monteiro’s use of symbolism is effective in communicating without saying too much. This is a director who seems to respect their audience’s intellect enough not to spell everything out, and while this is by no means relaxing entertainment, it is a piece of engaging and sensitive cinema.


'José' was part of the Official Selection and winner of the Bronze Frame (3rd prize) at Short Focus Film Festival 2019.


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