Film Review: Jose and Pilar (A scetch on last years of Jose Saramago)

Jose e PilarWell-made documentaries can be broadly  categorized in two classes: the first genre comprises fact based hard-hitting stories on a controversial socio-political subject matter, the best example of which is the ones made by the world-renowned Michael Moore; while the second genre introduces the viewers to a dremscape like journey, putting the poetics in the camera work that ascends us to an out of the world experience. Searching for a Sugarman is the finest example of the second genre to which the documentary made on Nobel laureate Portuguese  novelist Jose Saramago belongs.

Now let me begin with a confession. I am not a huge fan of Jose Saramago’s work. I have read his very innovative novels like Blindness, Seeing and The double and appreciated the original style of story-telling. Yet I could not enjoy his style of grueling details, his obsessions with harrowing factoids and musings of the characters that sounded rather trite. The lack of use of punctuations and style of his stream of consciousness writing is somewhat lost in translation and all I could see was a writer whose craft seemed rather common-place; and I don’t know if I should blame the author or the translator for this.

Returning to the documentary made on the final days of Jose Saramago and his wife Pilar del rio I should say that I found a different Jose Saramago whom I could not find in the pages of his novels (translated in English). This Saramago, with his in depth insights on life and its tributaries, on his pondering over his impending death, his race against borrowed time to finish his novel, and his conclusion (and the conclusion of the film) not with his usual optimism but rather a devastating fatalism reminded me of another Portuguese master writer senior to Saramago: Fernando Pessoa.

Apart from the points I mentioned just now, Jose and Pilar touches the love between Sarmago and his wife, their mutual achievements, their struggle to change the world and keep pace with it. The fiery Pilar exhorting against war efforts in middle-east comes in sharp contrast with the brooding Saramago who, almost languidly, goes on with his life accepting that “a man’s writing cannot change the world”. In fact the political commitment of Saramago that I never found in his novels (which perhaps is a good thing) is present in the documentary without any nuances  and as searing truth.

In conclusion Jose and Pilar truly changed my outlook towards the writer and I believe it will do that to everyone who endeavoured to read him in English. In that sense it is highly recommended for the English speaking audience.

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3 responses to “Film Review: Jose and Pilar (A scetch on last years of Jose Saramago)

    • You seem to be a great admirer of Saramago. I somehow feel compelled to like him, partially due to his political inclination and partially due to the greatness ascribed to him but cannot. Have you read his works in Original Portuguese, or even in Spanish translation? Because after watching this film I feel I might be missing something in the English translations that I read.

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