• International Competition

O Ouro E O Mundo

Gold Songs

Ico Costa

On-board camera, as if pulled along by her characters, Ico Costa creates a melodramatic fiction in close collaboration with the locals, capturing their realities as closely as possible while working on typical situations. “The simpler the stories, the truer they are“, said Fassbinder. Domingo and Neusia play themselves. They are young and in love. He works in a car wash but his boss does not pay him. She is pregnant. He decides to go to the other side of Mozambique to work in the gold mines to support his future family. Ico Costa embarks on a sensual and patient rewriting of reality, dissecting the heart of an exploitative system based on gold panning and the resulting way of life. Very concrete, O ouro e o mundo exposes a social status: the heavy bags of dirt carried under a blazing sun, the barefoot walks on muddy paths, the labour and the waiting, the men on one side gathered around the same plate, the women on the other, their eyes turned towards the future, with the pending hope of the return of those who are far away. While the general economy of the film plays with the visual mechanics of the documentary, oscillating between crudity and coyness to blur the lines – the use of fiction makes it possible to set up head-on scenes that dig deeper into the violence and brutality with which the characters are confronted: such is the case with the tragic death of a comrade crushed in the mines. But the dense and precious raw material of the film remains the improvised or rewritten conversations. They unravel the dreams, motivations and disillusions of these men and women who clearly see the circulation of their desires subject to the gold that has become more precious to others than their lives.

Claire Lasolle

O Ouro e o Mundo is your fifth film shot in Mozambique, starring Domingos Marengula and Neusia Guiamba, already present in some of your previous works. Could you tell us the genesis of this new work of yours?

O Ouro e o Mundo tells a story somewhat common in the panorama of Mozambique for almost one century, when tar roads were built and started to link the country together. Due to the lack of opportunities in several parts of the country, it became a very normal thing that men in their early twenties left their homes from a few months to several years to work whether abroad or in big undertakings across the country, while women stayed at home with the children, raising their families alone.
Nowadays, this still happens and every time I come back to Inhambane, there are always a few friends that are away, working in factories in Johannesburg, in big plantations in the south, in the gold mines in the north or in all kinds of jobs in the capital Maputo.
I wrote a story based on that and then, inevitably, reality emerged from the fiction.
The shooting was supposed to happen in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to postpone it for one year. Then, when we were about to start our considerably conventional shooting I got infected myself by the time of the first wave of the disease in the country, resulting in an immense curfew that made us postpone it again.
By that time, I realised the only way to shoot this film in 2021 was if we had a small crew and minimal equipment. So everybody went home except for my most intimate collaborators. With only 5 people and a mini-DV camera (the one we happen to had) we started to shoot our characters furtively and, in the end, we found out that was the right way to do this film.

In O Ouro e o Mundo, the entire cast is made up of non-professional local actors. What motivates this recurring choice?

There are several reasons for that.
First, I only worked with a professional actor once and I hated the experience. He’s a good actor in that film, but I didn’t enjoy the process at all. On the contrary, I love to work with non-professional actors and one of the biggest pleasures I have in making films is to see what these actors (who usually never thought of being actors) achieve throughout the process. I get very proud of them and I think that Henrique Bonacho (the actor of my previous film Alva) or Neusia Guiamba (the actress of this film) were just perfect actors for my films and I would never replace them for anyone, even if Sean Penn offered his services for free.
And also, for the kind of cinema I want to make, they bring something a professional actor can never bring. I want to be as close to reality as I can and I could never achieve that if I worked with professional actors from Maputo (the capital), that always come from the bourgeoisie and only have the experience of working in soap operas. The lives of the characters of this film are not far from the lives of Domingos and Neusia, even if Domingos never worked in the mines in the north (although he did do it as a preparation for the film) and I think the audience can feel that.

How did you work with the cast? Did you write a script to follow? How much was left to improvisation?

Originally there was a normal script. That is necessary to get funding from film institutes.
But when I went to Mozambique to start working with the actors, back in 2019, I realized that it was impossible for them to say the dialogues I had written. They didn’t understand a lot of what was written, some concepts that were in the dialogues and… they were just not professional actors that could interpret a character. So, after a lot of rehearsals and frustration, we got to the point where Domingos and I decided to (literally) burn the script. And when I came back in 2021 we started to work differently: I started to listen to him more, what him and the other actors had to say and, in each scene, we created the environments where they could talk around the topics they had to approach.
So we worked with a very basic script, but which had almost no dialogues. I would say that something like 70% of the dialogues are improvisation, but there are obviously some scenes where everything is scripted.

How did the editing phase contribute to shaping the structure of the film and how did you work with Clément Pinteaux on this step?

Clément was great in destroying some of the bad ideas I had for the film. This was the film I shot the most. There were more characters that were cut off, two different endings, the Maputo part was much bigger… I was a bit lost and he really helped to concentrate on what was important for the narrative to advance.

The characters are followed by hand-held camera, in a minimalist and accurate style, creating a flow that reflects their precariousness. What ideas guided the direction of the photography?

Some of those ideas came from the fact that we had a small crew, without a professional DOP (Raul Domingues is a director and an editor). We almost didn’t have lighting equipment but we also didn’t want it. For example, in the mines there are no street lamps and, in the holes, they only use headlights. It would have been absurd to have a photography contrary to that environment. We also didn’t have tripods or gaffers or assistant cameras, we worked with what we had, because that was the right way to be close to the people. It was very difficult for me and Raul to create the night scenes, we looked like film students trying to achieve something – but we knew what we wanted.

The film reveals the disenchantment of this youth adrift and in an unstable and unsatisfactory work situation.

The original script was much lighter and had a lot more humor. I knew Domingos from the time he was a teenager, but when I arrived in Inhambane in 2019 he was working in a car wash facility for 45 euros a month and he was really disenchanted about adult life. Starting to work around those issues made me think a lot about it. In my second short film in Mozambique, Nyo Vweta Nafta, they already talk a lot about it: going way is the only way to escape exploitation and poverty, although it is not necessarily the solution. I obviously don’t know what the solution is and the film doesn’t offer one either.

In fact, the situation does not seem to be any better elsewhere, not even in Europe, described in a sharp and lucid manner by one of the characters in the film.

My friends in Mozambique always think that life in Europe is perfect, because they only know the kind of Europeans that can travel there, whether for work or vacation. But what I see living there and in Portugal is that people are not happier in Europe. Yes, they have access to better housing, health, education and products they can buy, but it is also a more individualistic society, where the sense of community is much more broken than in Africa, I guess. But this is an endless talk…

Interview by Marco Cipollini

  • International Competition
16:0028 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3
20:4529 June 2024Artplexe 1
10:3030 June 2024Artplexe 2

Technical sheet

Portugal, France / 2024 / Colour / 103'

Original version: Portuguese, Guitonga, Ximanica and Changana
Subtitles: French, English
Script: Ico Costa
Photography: Raul Domingues, Ico Costa
Editing: Clément Pinteaux
Sound: Luís Duzenta, Paulo Lima
Cast: Domingos Marengula, Neusia Guiamba

Production: Ico Costa (Oublaum Filmes), Jérôme Blesson (La Belle Affaire Productions)
Contact: Théo Lionel (The Party Film Sales)

Nyo Vweta Nafta (IFFR, 2017)
Timkat (Visions du
 Réel, 2021)
Domy+Ailucha: Ket Stuff! (Cinéma du Réel, 2022)
Uproar, Eclipse
(DocLisboa, 2017)
Alva (IFFR, 2019)