Invisible Hero (Invisível Herói) is a short film that tells the story of Duarte, a middle-aged blind man who wanders the streets of Lisbon in search of an imaginary friend named Leonardo.
Director Cristèle Alves Meira joins us on Close-up Culture to give us more insight into making this poetic film.
Q: Can you tell us about your relationship with actor Duarte Pina and how he helped inspire ‘Invisible Hero?
A: I met Duarte Pina while I was casting my first feature film. We spent four hours talking about literature and music. Duarte is a very curious and cultured person.
With the feature film still being funded, I thought it would be nice to make a short film with Duarte before [to help prepare for the feature]. I was planning to do a documentary portrait, but Duarte hates biographies. He was the one who invited me to write a fiction.
It is from his real taste for Fernando Pessoa, his heteronyms, that I imagined this imaginary friend called Leandro.
Q: What is the meaning behind the journey to find Leandro in ‘Invisible Hero’?
A: Looking for Leandro is a way for Duarte to leave the library and meet new people. It’s summer in Lisbon and the tourists are busy sunbathing. Duarte goes to meet the daily workers: the ice-cream merchant, the masons, the human statue… I wanted to film those who work while the others are on vacation.
No one seems to have seen Leandro… it is a way of saying that no one sees the minority that he represents. There is a young Cape Verdean immigrant going from little job to little job, yet only Duarte – who is blind – seems to acknowledge him. I had to look at one minority looking at another.
Q: What was the shoot like and using these different Lisbon settings?
A: Like Fernando Pessoa, Duarte walks through the streets of Lisbon and its surroundings. His quest makes us move from one setting to another, all of which have a special meaning.
The construction site tells of the mutation that Portugal is undergoing at the moment. We see a huge backwater that reveals in the background the roofs of a new Lisbon, that of mass tourism. The African night has captivating sounds because it is a reminder of our colonial heritage. The kuduro rhythms are the ones I listen to most since filming in Angola in 2008. I wanted to pay tribute to this young music scene of DJ Lycox and DJ Marfox – just to name a couple.
Q: You have a familiar working relationship with DP Julien Michel. How did you approach the visuals of this film and drawing the line between documentary and fiction?
A: I have made all my films with Julien Michel. His eyes are very important to my work.
Julien’s greatest quality is his speed and ease to find the right angle, the right frame and the good temporality to film the people who are in front of his camera. He is passionate about Super 8 and film photography. I think it is this connection with the film that gives him this ability to capture the present moment the way he does. He always looks at the right place at the right time.
He and I compliment each other very well. We know each other perfectly, it is with him that I have been sharing my life for seventeen years. It is a relationship that means we don’t always need to talk before we turn up because there are things going on beyond words. A trust, a common sensibility.
All the scenes in the film were staged and we had a written script, but our approach with Julien was to give the impression that it was a documentary. We spent time looking for the sets, to know them well and to find out what path Duarte was going to follow. It was important not to cut too much but rather to film in sequence, continuously, as we do in documentary. It was very fun to deal with the real while making fiction.
We also used extras to make it feel more real. I found most of them on the street. They all agreed to play the game with great enthusiasm. From my perspective, I was delighted to see Duarte, our only actor, take the game and train the accomplices in his game. We were like two big kids playing pretend! That’s the magic of cinema, isn’t it?
Q: I recently spoke to CJ Jones about his positive experience as a blind actor working on Edgar Wright’s ‘Baby Driver’. What are your takeaways from this collaboration with Duarte?
A: I learned a lot from Duarte. His way of seeing the world, of feeling things, and his relation to time are all ways of being present that I have taken as a model. I have never seen Duarte as a cripple because he is full of life, curiosity, and humour. Especially because he sees in his own way, with the tip of his fingers, his feet…
I laughed a lot in his company and really enjoyed our exchanges. Our collaboration was really playful.
Q: I understand you are working on a feature that will star Duarte. Can you reveal anything about that or any of your other future plans?
A: In the feature film, Duarte is a very poetic character who expresses himself only as a proverb or by singing. Again, it was his personality that inspired my writing. The film will be set entirely in the North East of Portugal in the village of my mother.