‘From’ is a word that is part of a sentence which suggests a relationship between two things, viz. I took the milk from the fridge. So when the name of a film is John From you begin to wonder. The title of the film also does not give away which language it is in.
The character John From does not exist in the film as a living person. He traces his provenance from a time when American airplanes dropped food packets over Melanesia in the Pacific ocean. When the natives asked who was the god from the sky, they were told ‘John from America.’ ‘America’ seemed to have got lost in translation and the saviour was simply christened ‘John From.’
The movie is about Rita, a bored teenage girl who is infatuated with a photographer, twice her age, who moves in to an apartment in the same complex where she lives. Rita’s parents don’t seem to have the time for her or her adolescent whims. As Rita falls head over heels for him, she begins to be interested in the subject of his exhibition, viz. the peoples of Melanesia. She is enamoured by the exhibits – some bizarre and fearful – of skulls, canoes, head gear and photos.
Uncanny circumstances bring them together, as though the spirits from the island have come to bring the two together. Suddenly the window bangs, announcing that her love-interest has returned from work. An eerie all-enveloping mist pervades the place as though a presence is at work.
With a little help from her friends, Rita steals his car. When she grandly returns it to him, he feels indebted to her and love blossoms.
The movie, though slow on the uptake, grows on you. The gradual immersion of a Portuguese girl into an otherwise alien culture, is gradually and convincingly done. The high point is when Rita paints her face and neck in the manner of the natives of Melanesia.
In the early part of the movie the girl and her confidante Sara listen to Western music with beat, swaying their bodies to the rhythm. But as mysterious things begin to happen, the background score is replaced by women’s voices from Melanesia.
The pristine beauty of the sandy beaches of Melanesia is contrasted with the block cubical apartments of Lisbon or ‘the monotonous microcosm of concrete’ as Alfonso Rivera, reviewer on cineuropa.org, puts it.
The fascination of a young girl for an older man is a challenging theme. Lolita, the classic novel by Vladimir Nabokov comes to mind, so also the film American Beauty starring Kevin Spacey. Youth is seen as rejuvenating and the elixir of life – or what’s left of it.
How will it end? the viewer wonders. The astounding conclusion is thought-provoking and beautiful.
John From (2015), the Portuguese film, directed by João Nicolau starring Julia Palha and Filipe Vargas was screened recently for the Semana da Cultura, Indo-Portuguesa, Goa as part of the IXth Lusophone Film Festival at the Maquinez Palace, Panjim.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 8 October 2017. Pix courtesy, imdb.