Tsugua Diaries, The (2021)

An artistic and personal attempt to produce a film during the Covid pandemic, this meta-cine piece is calm and poetic, told via a playful reverse-chrono structure.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,506

Dir. Miguel Gomes & Maureen Fazendeiro
2021 | Portugal | Drama | 101 min | 1.66:1 | Portuguese
PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language

Cast: Crista Alfaiate, Carloto Cotta, Joao Nunes Monteiro
Plot: In sun-soaked Portugal, Crista, Carloto, and João live in rural peace during the COVID lockdown. They pass their time in a spacious farmhouse where the dog days of summer are filled with dancing, chores, disturbed sleep patterns, flirtations, and building a backyard butterfly house.
Official Selection – Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Covid Lockdown; Countryside Life
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Elliptical
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Directed by Miguel Gomes alongside Maureen Fazendeiro, both of whom appear in the film multiple times as filmmakers bereft of inspiration, The Tsugua Diaries is a record of about three weeks in lockdown as they attempt to produce a film during the Covid pandemic. 

It is certainly more fascinating than how I’ve described it—for one, the film is made up of vignettes that capture moments over those three weeks, starting from the last day (or is it in medias res?). 

As the reverse-chrono structure begins to work its mysterious magic, The Tsugua Diaries transforms from a traditional film into its ‘making of’.  What is remarkable is that despite this transition (a sleight of hand that is conspicuous yet subtle at the same time), the film feels organically driven. 

“I have no patience for people, so people have no patience for me.”

On one hand, The Tsugua Diaries charts the challenges of filming under restrictions; on the other hand, it is a thought-provoking structural deconstruction of the so-called creative process as we see ‘it’ at work, fragmented as if art can be produced from its pieces. 

Overall, the film feels calming, poetic, and possibly, cathartic.  While many segments are shot with a kind of documentary naturalism (in fact, it was filmed in 16mm), there are some portions where the images are drenched in artificial coloured lights, evoking a dreamlike atmosphere. 

Like Gomes’ own Our Beloved Month of August (2008), the cast and crew do actively influence the linear course of the narrative, though its reverse-chrono structure might suggest otherwise.  In an enigmatic fashion, the film forces us back to the beginning when there is no film to speak of—or are we at the end of a futile artistic endeavour?

Grade: B+



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