The Last Time I Saw Macao: Hong Kong Review
Portugal's Joao Pedro Rodrigues and Joao Rui Guerra de Mata step away from queer cinema to reflect on Macau’s colonial past in an experimental noir thriller.
Joao Pedro Rodrigues (Odete) and regular collaborator Joao Rui Guerra de Mata’s The Last Time I Saw Macao opens on a show stopping, lip synch drag performance by Cindy Scrash, made up like an old school burlesque singer, slinking around in front of a tiger cage. That cold open is quickly followed by disjointed shots of a paintball fight, without much paint, before settling into its willfully disorienting vaguely noir semi-autobiographical essay as languid as Macau itself. Reminiscent of Chris Marker and, obviously, Josef von Sternberg’s Macao, more than anything by Rodrigues or Guerra de Mata, Last Time is light on the duo’s traditional LGBT content and themes and heavy on form and experimentation. Last Time’s willful abstraction and reliance on negative space will relegate it to festivals and gallery retrospectives, and only the artiest of art houses.
After the Scrash performance, Guerra de Mata begins to reminisce in voice over about the time he spent in the former Portuguese enclave 30 years earlier while en route to meet his friend Candy, a woman who still lives in Macau and who’s run afoul of the wrong man. There may have been a murder—there’s a gun and a dying man the paintball sequence—and Guerra de Mata is attempting to come to her aid. The narrative is cobbled together using random images from around the city and the characters are created purely in voice over and off screen phone conversations.
To the extent that a traditional narrative can be found, Rodrigues and Guerra de Mata create an old school noir yarn about a femme fatale on the run who keeps slipping past the “hero.” But a story isn’t the point. Last Time’s raison d’etre is to allow the directors to indulge their brand of filmmaking and its deconstructionist agenda. Rodrigues and Guerra de Mata never lose sight of that objective, evident in their carefully chosen contrarian images. This is not the Macau created from pure fantasy as seen in Skyfall or the “crossroads for people to try their luck.” It is one pulled from the romance of a colonial past. The film’s downbeat conclusion nicely mirrors the overall tone that the co-directors set to convey the idea of how the Portuguese see Macau now—disembodied, abstract, a type of exoticism long since gone—and how some Chinese can get their first taste of the West through the Macau keyhole. It’s not easy filmmaking, and it will appeal to only the most rarified of viewers, but Last Time I Saw Macao is nonetheless a meticulous, poetic paean to a vanished time and place that is never less than spellbinding.
Producer: Joao Figueiras, Daniel Chabannes, Corentin Senechal
Director: Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Joao Rui Guerra de Mata
Cast: Cindy Scrash, Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Joao Rui Guerra de Mata, Lydie Barbara
Screenwriter: Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Joao Rui Guerra de Mata
Director of Photography: Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Joao Rui Guerra de Mata
Costume designer: Joao Carlos Marques
Editor: Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Joao Rui Guerra de Mata
No rating, 82 minutes