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Berlinale 2021: Director Susana Nobre Talks Jack’s Ride

Director Susana Nobre joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about Jack’s Ride.

The film follows Joaquim, who has returned to Portugal after working as a New York cab driver for many years. Now the urbane, always immaculately turned-out man is about to retire. A final tour leads him through industrial zones where stagnation is the order of the day.

Can you tell us about Joaquim, the protagonist, and what you wanted to explore through him?

I wanted to make a film with three movements involved: my personal story of how I met him; his reminiscences of his life; and the approach to a territory between Portugal and America. I wanted to make a portrait that contained the idea of what it means to be an emigrant. To explore the true entrepreneurial power of a generation that has very little prospect of life and so ventures to other places. This state of someone too lucid and awake to overcome a series of obstacles. I think these are very rare moments in a person’s life.

This might be a simplistic observation, but Joaquin’s appearance conjures thoughts of Elvis, Johnny Cash and other American icons. I wondered if you could talk more about the remnants of Jack’s life as an immigrant in the US and how they manifest in the film?

Yes, it’s very common among immigrants. In his case, I think it’s like a protection that keeps him feeling young and strong. I think that Joaquim’s “Americanised” style gives him a semblance of a certain timelessness, as if he put himself in orbit to cross different times and spaces as an observer. 

What role does Portugal, past and present, play in the film?

I knew from the beginning that the film should trace its territory. A territory where different geographies and temporalities would converge. Joaquim traces his own atlas in the film, which is not only a physical atlas, it is also one of consciousness, memory and its ghosts. There are pieces of Portugal’s history under the ground that Joaquim steps on that are connected to the present. Not only Portugal history but the global history. Joaquim steps by steps form crisis to crisis as we all.

You’ve described the structure of the film as a ‘concentric movement around Jack’s history”. I found that fascinating. How was the experience of following that path, as a filmmaker, rather than something more linear or geographical?

The film is always turning around Joaquim; his present and past. I didn’t want to make a film in sketches, I wanted it to install its own time and space. The question that was imposed was a question of composition and narrative passages, in which the various elements, with different temporalities and geographies, came together in the same narrative level.

The Film Stage called the film an “Aki Kaurismäki-esque tale”. Is that an allusion that you were conscious of while making the film, or do those type of comparisons not interest you?

I am flattered. I would never imagine comparing myself with Kaurismaki but I can identify with some of his gestures as a director. Namely, characters who are marginalised by the system of savage liberalism that excluded them from a more comfortable life. His films portray this loneliness and, at the same time, a certain rebellion that comes from this exclusion. 

What will be your overriding memory from making this film?

Besides being a little bit on the razor’s edge, a great adventure.

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