“Légua”: the delicate chronicle of a dying world

“Légua”: the delicate chronicle of a dying world


There are strippings which concentrate many riches, as Légua reminds us, a provincial chronicle and variation on the theme of work and days, without doubt one of the most vibrant revelations of the last Quinzaine des filmmakers, in Cannes. A simple, unadorned film, Légua quite naturally bears the name of the locality where it takes place, an immemorial hamlet along the Tâmega river, a tributary of the Douro, in the north of Portugal. This is the second feature film from a duo, Filipa Reis and Joao Miller Guerra, not exactly beginners since they already have a solid documentary work to their credit. We also know the first for her activities as a producer, at the helm of her company Uma Pedra no Sapato (“a stone in the shoe”), a nursery of young Portuguese cinema having notably contributed to the latest feature film by Miguel Gomes and Maureen Fazendeiro , Journal de Tûoa (2021).

Légua is part of the vein of Portuguese rural realism, following Tras-os-Montes (1976), by Antonio Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, a flagship work and cornerstone of local auteur cinema, whose influence is still felt today. Ana (Carla Maciel), mother, almost 49 years old, works as a cleaning lady in the large mansion whose masters are especially conspicuous by their absence, having deserted the place for the big city. An old pious caretaker, Emilia (Fatima Soares), still watches over the property, ensuring every day that the numerous, endless maintenance tasks are carried out as they should. Ana willingly complies with his orders, even giving him the affectionate nickname “Milinha” .

The two women keep the estate on its feet, an image of an almost feudal order which survives thanks to them, as if outside of time. But one day, Emilia falls ill, declines quickly, and there is only Ana left to take care of her. While her mason husband leaves to work in France and her teenage daughter languishes, the housewife redoubles her efforts, combining daily chores with nursing work. Step by step, she accompanies her grandmother towards death.

Great accuracy

Let us be reassured, Légua in no way makes a strong argument out of agony: on the contrary, we cannot imagine a more considerate film, casting a patient, never intrusive gaze on its restricted world. Filipa Reis and Joao Miller Guerra have retained from their experience in documentaries a perseverance in their approach to reality. The staging, marked by a strong photographic sensitivity, divides rural life into successive views, sometimes close to people, sometimes focused on their environment, with a notable taste for still lifes and signs of passing time (a fire that burns in the night, the rays of the sun which illuminate the crockery). A great accuracy emerges from the whole: confusingly natural characters combined with an art of framing that is never ostensible, but always in the right place.

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