Disclaimer: The following expresses personal views informed by taste and professional experience. The text is intellectual property of the author. The imagery is credited to the relevant artists and production companies.

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#44, November 2011; 

The second stage of structuring the narrative of a film is to build upon and around the psychological foundations of each scene.
I realise I could be quoting at least two of the architects of Cinema I most admire and that have so influenced my work: Michelangelo Antonioni or Andrei Tarkovsky. Yet, this is the best I can do in putting into words what I’ve always, instinctively, implemented in my own output.
The Monastery of Sainte-Marie de La Tourette by Le Corbusier (1953)
Photograph by Hélène Binet, Eveux, France (2007)
Architecture is one of my main passions outside film. Whilst I strive to attain the same rigorous simplicity that, for example, Le Corbusier displayed in all his designs (which elevated common materials from the level of mere functionality onto something altogether more transcendental), my opening sentence does not just relate to form.
Once the narrative is outlined, with its core fundamental sections in place, there comes the need to locate those fragments of time, those shreds of mood and atmosphere in space. This should never just abide to stylistic choices or need to display production values. The space in which the action takes place has to emphasise a variety of filmic aspects which, in my practice, are invariably pursued with the following hierarchy:
Character – ideally, the most crucial scenes display a coherence between space or surroundings and the psychological/emotional state of the character; his/her background may also have an influence, alongside personal aspirations, inner doubts and desires (repressed or otherwise);
Architecture itself – that remarkable imprint we leave behind, conjured up by necessity or sheer need to master the various elements in Nature, can overwhelm (and override) nearly everything else, at times; with that, goes a sense of contemplation – an appreciation of geometrical harmony or a very specific gaze upon the unintentional/previously unnoticed correlation (if not conflict) between certain lines or details;
Story/Plot – the way the above are employed is, in effect, more respectful towards the narrative than conventional filmmaking would let you know; the use of space and architecture within such parameters guides you more profoundly through the story than you would consider; it can do so in a subtle manner (or not), but it’s always aiding the plot to progress, one way or another; in other words, it may not be what you expect or particularly think to be vital, but it is what you will need, in order to fully appreciate what is unfolding before you;

Ausências de Espírito (Absences of Mind, 2005)
I’ve always been extremely sensitive to the mood of places. Certain sites have had the most powerful, lingering impact in my being and often I have felt a very physical response to what is mostly an ethereal residue of a building’s history or past function.
By now, I have mastered the ability to weave mood into a given space or sculpt the right atmosphere onto the façade of a building, but to come across it in ways that are beyond my control (that are inherent, regardless of where I position or turn the camera onto), is as thrilling as casting the right person for a part.
Certain cities are abundant with such spaces. You find it in their neglected corners, in the way once innovative (but now traditional) buildings can still stand proud in the face of baffling planning permissions around or within them... The suburban, the periphery, the northern city which speaks of quiet resentment in a country that may favour the more international capital... They all fascinate and inspire me as potential settings for the right tale.
Ausências de Espírito (Absences of Mind, 2005)
Yet, more than once, I have had the privilege of filming in three major European cities that enriched the projects in question to unexpected levels of cinematic flare. These were Barcelona, Rome and Lisbon.
The films I have made in these cities, between 2003 and 2008, display key-moments in which everything that I have so far outlined in this article was eventually distilled and implemented.
The examples go as such:
Torpor Revisitado (Torpor Revisited, 2015)
In Torpor Revisited, a character who has found a renewed harmony in her life spots a face from her troubled past in the crowd; this is something that brings into question her present existence and as she revisits the area of that sighting, the Gothic quarters of Barcelona provide the right sinuous journey back in time; the graffiti ‘tattooed’ on the old surrounding walls evoke her once moral decline, whilst the CCTV cameras pierced into historical corners point not just in the possible voyeuristic directions that the plot may take, but the actual trajectories that such unexpected figure takes, in recollection;
In Stolen Waters & Other Absences, the former lover of a deceased poet starts by overlooking Rome, the backdrop of their affair, from the vantage point of Villa Borghese, where she herself appears to be scrutinised by the accusing gaze of various sculpted busts that include the painter Giotto and the poet Dante Alighieri; as she descends into the city, a stroll around the Trastevere, with its architectural punctuations of the religious/funereal kind gives way to the voluptuous seclusion of Quartiere Coppedè;  
Ausências de Espírito (Absences of Mind, 2005)
And in Absences of Mind (the film that precedes Stolen Waters in the unfinished Trilogy), a reclusive lesbian writer with a terminal disease gives herself to a moment of private exploration of her body – an intimate, lugubrious act which brings evocative, sunlit architectural details in sudden flashes that underline her progressively altered state; such details include the ceremonial shot of the rosary façade of a church and the emphasis on the phallic quality of an old chimney from derelict lime ovens, but they are entirely open to interpretation; it’s only when the writer’s immersion in herself is complete (by means of a slow fade to black) that we see the male (who’d been kept out of the equation) emerging and ascending up old steps which, in turn, offer a privileged view of Lisbon - the city of spies and intellectual exiles.

If this was to be just about location, anyone with enough time and taste could make a film.
This is about structuring the film language by means of paying attention to your surroundings.
It’s about understanding the essence of your material and setting the right foundations that will prevent it from crumbling.

L'Eclisse (1962) by Michelangelo Antonioni
It’s to communicate with the right language, like the great, late Antonioni does in so many of his films (which paradoxically have been defined as ‘works of sheer incommunicability’). He does so, more strikingly than any other time, in the end sequence of The Eclipse (1962) – where details of previously seen suburban desolation are all masterfully edited together to rapidly culminate in the titular eclipse. The fact that they also highlight the emotional/existential crossroads in which the main character finds herself has to be acknowledged as one of the greatest acts of respect and consideration for his audience that a filmmaker ever gave.

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#51, June 2012;
Realism in Film is overrated. This has been my firm belief for quite some time. Since way before I started making films, in fact. What started as a personal inclination, became a predilection in the choice of films to watch and finally a cornerstone in the design of my own fictional output.
This is not to say that I favour Fantasy, Horror or Sci-Fi over a good, solid flick featuring real human beings, dealing with realistic issues within a recognisable world. I’m actually often happy with minimalistic tales which present their content on a smaller scale – so long, for instance, the implications to the characters are varied and the mood is carefully crafted through the available cinematic devices.
My point is that the tendency (of both filmmakers and audiences) to judge a film by ‘real life’ standards is the most limiting, narrow-minded approach I can think of.
Terence Stamp in The Limey (1999) by Steven Soderbergh
Every artform should claim the right to expand itself; to enhance aspects of its own anatomy to deliver, at the very least, a pleasurable challenge. To suppress cinematic techniques in favour of comfortable realism in accordance with expectations is reductive, if not to say ridiculous.
Terence Stamp in Poor Cow (1967) by Ken Loach
The symptom becomes more acute if you add the prefix Socio to the term Realism. There is something utterly unimaginative about the way such trend developed and took shape.
If, to begin with, an assertion of national pride and identity may have had a place after a crippling World War II, to continue to pursue an approach that is light-years from expressing the full potential of the artform is plain vanity. The constant, ongoing regurgitation of issues that highlight ‘who we are’ and ‘where we belong’ - without elevating the form to greater levels of artistic expression - is a tedious ‘marking of territory’.
Terence Stamp in Teorema (1968) by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Those who abide to such a narrow standard, blindingly defending the usual conventional view that ‘story comes first’, should watch the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini (a true filmmaker who took his first creative steps as a man of words before entering and redefining Cinema). His use of real circumstances and non-actors in his fictional work would humble any current practioners of Socio-Realism that may have a hint of genuine film understanding in them.
In essence, Pasolini understood that, like poetry, the formulation of film is internal and not a reiteration of established values and formulas in detriment of cinematic language.

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#68, November 2013;

Interpretations of David Lynch’s Lost Highway continue to proliferate - like jackals forever digging into a carcass. Still, whilst death remains at the core of this nocturnal journey, few other films pulsate with such beautifully muted heartbeat. And, for all its ambiguity and supernatural overtones, no other piece of Cinema quite manages to brush itself against the fabric of reality like this 1997 masterpiece.

Robert Blake in Lost Highway (1997) by David Lynch
In the same way that the film embraces cinematic conventions by crossing genres along the way, it also establishes a series of archetypes that, to some extent, aid our perception of the characters.

But I would argue that to approach the film from a strictly Jungian/Freudian perspective is to deny its major strengths. Whilst those elements are undeniably there, Lost Highway expresses something far more deep-seated: our primal discomfort in the face of the unknown.
Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway (1997) by David Lynch

Unashamedly masculine, the film employs the figure of the woman – amidst that most paradigmatic stage that is a marriage – as the ultimate source of anxiety, doubt and multi-layered depths.

The husband’s failure to penetrate her mind is reflected in his impotence when attempting to possess her body – on which he reads an indelibly inscribed sexual history. All ambiguity, external or otherwise, flows from there and escalates to the point of the necessary scission with (that) reality.
And then there’s what’s undoubtedly the most important, misconstrued and underrated aspect of it all: the filmmaking.

Bill Pullman in Lost Highway (1997) by David Lynch
For all its ambiguity of tone and subjectivity of imagery, the first half of Lost Highway is perhaps the closest to reality you will ever get on screen. Lynch understands perfectly that Cinema, when distilled to its essence, is ‘the fixing of time’. So, what we have in this film is something remarkable that goes beyond measured pace or rich atmosphere. The household we’re invited to inhabit is filled with time that is both psychologically internal and unrelentingly external.

In other words, it’s the way we experience time in the real world.
The paradox rests upon the fact that cinemagoers expect a re-ordering of time; a sense of normality conveyed by the illusion of some sort of realism - hence the vast majority of reactions to the film being that of perplexity or repulsion.
The nightmarish narrative content may get in your way of grasping such notion, but I say: listen to silence that permeates ‘your own time’.
It may very well be as amplified as Lynch’s...   

 - Originally published in Now Then, Issue#59, February 2013;

‘Behold the oncoming night, black velvet woven from a thousand shreds of skin pulled by whip, oh! Tore by whip, from the back of our people, when slavery reigned...’

Thus wrote the late Angolan poet Maurício de Almeida Gomes, more than sixty years ago. He did so with both clarity and an understanding of how the historical condition of an entire race can be carried through subsequent and future decades. Despite being a high-achiever in every sense, he understood and experienced this social branding in the flesh – for the blood of slaves almost certainly ran through his veins. Maurício de Almeida Gomes is my grandfather.
I think of him as I watch Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s brutal Western parable set against the backdrop of slavery.

Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained (2013) by Quentin Tarantino

Everything that you’re forced to be made aware about this film, be it hype or controversy, is set aside once the film starts. It’s an artistic interpretation of a specific period of History. And it’s as much infused with Tarantino’s trademark reverence of (and reference to) sub-genres of Cinema, as it is with his passion for language. In the majority of his films, a foreign language when spoken becomes a subterfuge for hidden motivations and it’s often used to underline the ignorance characters share of each other’s culture. This is more than apparent in Django Unchained. When the subtitles kick in, the plot moves forward quicker than ever.

Miradouro da Lua, Angola; Photograph by João Paulo Simões (2012)
Yet, most of the narrative exposition is economical and purely visual - by means of viscerally violent flashbacks that are in contrast with the rest of the film’s stylised gruesomeness. The accuracy of the torture implements used to dominate and humiliate slaves is the flipside of a coin mostly dismissed as historically-inaccurate. It also throws my mind back to a more recent Past, when only a few weeks ago I was in Angola: on one of the most important journeys of my life...

A bright white cube in the distance comes into view, seen from the passenger’s seat of a car in motion. ‘That’s the Museum of Slavery.’ - states the driver, matter-of-factly. A minimalist construction situated on a bay from which the vast majority of black slaves departed. Countless Angolans were extracted from this land to help ‘make Brazil’ (as the same aforementioned poem exposes).

Kerry Washington in Django Unchained (2013) by Quentin Tarantino
I’m in Luanda, the scarred capital of the country my grandfather loved dearly but was forced out of. I’m in the place where I was born 37 years ago and that only now I return to. A travelogue that will later be incorporated into a film ensues...

Travelogue Extract#1
14th December 2012

Wako Kungo, Angola; Photograph by João Paulo Simões (2012)
Going through the Kibala village; down a road that my father’s mother drove often (yet half a century ago), he tells me; a white woman alone with her two small children on an Opel of colonial make; as dwarfed by the majestic landscape of tall rocks and dense green vegetation as we are now - on a Land Rover that so easily conquers the miles ahead...

We’re heading towards Wako Kungo – formerly known as Cela, in the old colonial days. I think of
my grandfather; how he used to come to this area to work and later describe it with wonder, as an old man (once geographically removed).

I welcome the shaking of the Land Rover caused by the beaten track. It conceals my weeping...  

15th December 2012

Wako Kungo, Angola; Photograph by João Paulo Simões (2012)
We drive past a derelict war tank, resting tilted on the side of the road. At Kissanga village, where the colonial architecture has been most ravaged by war, shy faces glance at us. A heavily pregnant woman, selling fruit by the road, leaps from slope to slope like an elegant wild goat, to fetch us the bananas of our preference; ‘Only in developed countries is pregnancy considered an illness...’ - my father comments. In another market, a friendly young girl tries to hand me a half-naked 2 year-old baby. She smiles, as if able to read my mind. Angolan eyes are always sad – even when smiling. My camera hasn’t rolled yet...

Travelogue Extract#2
19th December 2012
En route to Cabo Ledo; another driver, another large vehicle... We cross the Cuanza, the long river that cuts diagonally through Angola; over an old bridge – the only one that was left standing after the war.
We return via Miradouro da Lua, where we stop and are forced to put ourselves into perspective: on this crumbling vantage point over vast merciless shores, surrounded by an ancient geological identity of the lunar kind, we’re close to nothing... transient, at best...

Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained (2013) by Quentin Tarantino
Travelogue Extract#3 
2nd January 2013

Mussulo is a protuberant tongue of sand which turns and looks back at the city of Luanda; technically a peninsula, they call it an island. This is where I have spent the last five days.
With the house on the beach (and its New Year celebrations) behind me, I enter the sea alone. Only a few boats rock gently around me.
The warm waters feel the closest I can imagine amniotic fluid to be like. I face the place where I was born and it makes sense. The skyline is that of a city bursting at the seams; originally built to host a few thousands, but that now contains over 5 million. It’s a place of extremes; of shocking contrasts... Suddenly, I even understand my filmography better. The people over there are like me - with an endless ability to resurrect themselves...

Freya Finnerty in He Can Delve In Hearts (2012) by João Paulo Simões

I emerge from the screening onto a dark, cold Sheffield. The snow falling catches the light of various street lamps and it sparkles as it blankets the ground I walk on. It feels as unreal as it gets.
More than a sense of satisfaction with Tarantino’s film, I feel invigorated by Django, the character. Not so unlike him, I have faced in the past that presumption of superiority rooted in prejudice. But my inner fire burns steadily now. And I’m ready to keep my grandfather’s creative flame alive - with my own.   

Continues on T a c t i l e T h o g h t s - Volume II