GSFF speaks to artist and filmmaker Pedro Neves Marques about his new film, artistic politics and the complexities of his creative process. With a background in contemporary art, Neves Marques utilises visual art and the moving image in his newest project The Bite. Painting an intimate portrait of a world at war with itself, the short film creates a sci-fi soaked snapshot of São Paulo in beautiful 16mm. In the midst of a killer mosquito epidemic, Neves Marques discusses conservative politics, conflicts of sexuality and what is considered to be natural, alongside woven narratives and jarring sound design.
Your work is often politically engaging and relevant. Why do you think it is important to implement this into your artistic practice?
PNM: Despite directing the camera to very concrete social and environmental issues, generally speaking my artistic politics is more speculative, and sometimes even science fictional, than documental or realistic. I feel attached to a politics that imagines more than what is expected from given roles and competencies; in other words, a politics that disrupts what society or normativity allows people or things can be. One could call it a politics of refusal that instead of saying, “This is how things are, let’s shot it,” asks “I have this political situation in hands, how can I imagine it otherwise?” or “What kind of less obvious connections are found here and how do I follow them?” Not taking things for granted is in itself political.
In The Bite, you present the physical body alongside the notion of a national body at the hands of a viral epidemic. What was your motivation for using parallel imagery in this way?
PNM: I was researching the Zika virus epidemic, and more specifically this story of genetically modified mosquitoes in the lab to fight the virus, at the same time as the former Brazilian President Dilma Roussef was being impeached. You could feel this growing tension in the streets, a rise of fascistic attitudes, racism, homophobia. I heard it from friends and saw it when I visited the country. The paranoia was obvious to everyone. So while I was hearing these people in the labs talk about control and categorization (the male mosquito that is enhanced and goes out to sterilize the females, etc.) you also had this aggressive masculine energy (and I use the term masculine sociologically) striving to regain control of social spaces and norms. This gave a certain “horror” feel to the film; this idea of a trap, of nets, insides and outsides. It also made obvious to me something I already knew: that queerness holds the potential to dissolve categories. That’s perhaps why you have such a presence of water and fluids in the film. Masculinity is afraid of that ambiguity and so it makes it it’s first enemy.
Your film shows the collision of science, nature and gender through its entwined narrative. What did you seek to communicate to your audience through the emphasis on this conflict?
PNM: This goes back to politics. I am extremely skeptical of a certain White liberal attitude that believes we’ll reach social harmony, that you can somehow appease differences, and so on. We all carry our legacies and there’s an inherent violence in that. This means acknowledging the gaps between us. But I believe we can and must live with those gaps in order to make true friendships and bonds out of it. As for this relationship you mention between science, nature, and gender, well, the construction of “nature” is in itself a history of violence. It’s a history of exclusion, of what or who is and isn’t natural, and thus of what must be tamed. Historically, women’s bodies and gender expression have been some of its key targets. The unboundness of love itself.
Your portrayal of sexuality in The Bite is prominent throughout the film. What drew you to your complex exploration of this subject?
PNM: Sexuality is where we sublimate a lot of social tensions. I wanted that element in the film. The role of intimacy in times of crisis. But I also didn’t want to romanticize it. Again, we all carry our burdens and limits; we each have our own timings as well. We do what we can, and oftentimes we can’t do it all alone, we try to reach it—and that can be difficult. I hope that tension comes across in that last, long scene of the film, when the three characters are in bed. For me it’s a queer love scene, but that doesn’t make it any easier, much less the fact that it’s queer. On the other hand, I’ve had spectators come to me and say how they see it in very different terms: for example, the presence of the male as an intrusion. But anyway what happens to that man in the end is also left ambiguous.
In the past, you have chosen to exhibit your films, including The Bite, as part of art installations. What do you feel this adds to a piece in terms of impact and audience experience? How do you think this compares to cinema exhibition?
PNM: My background is in contemporary art, where I was always working with film and video. So it was very natural for me to jump into cinema. But I see those two spaces very differently. To me, a museum gallery is more of a curatorial and spatial space. You have to acknowledge spectators’ wills and how they’ll appropriate the gallery for themselves. In that context I try to offer more of an experience, an environment; you can push certain elements that in a cinema context would only overburden the film, or you can leave loose threads that would otherwise ruin it. You can think about a single image without bothering with editing, for example. Going into cinema I’m more focused in storytelling, which I love, and the linearity of narrative. There’s something very special about the mood you’re in when stepping into a dark theatre to be taken along for fifteen minutes or three hours.
Interview by Heather Bradshaw. The Bite screens in Bill Douglas Award 1: Sanctuary.