Fogo-Fátuo [Will-o’-the-Wisp] (2022)

Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
Writer: João Pedro Rodrigues, João Rui Guerra da Mata, Paulo Lopes Graça
Cast: Mauro Costa, André Cabral, Joel Branco, Oceano Cruz, Margarida Vila-Nova, Miguel Loureiro, Dinis Vila-Nova, Luisa Castelo Branco, Vasco Redondo, Teresa Madruga
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 25.10.2022

Content Note: racism

2069. As King Alfredo (Joel Branco) waits for death, he remembers his childhood with his father who taught him to love the woods. And he remembers his time as a young man (Mauro Costa), living his dream to work as a firefighter, although his father isn’t happy about that. But it’s not just the work that draws Alfredo to firefighting, it’s also his colleague Afonso (André Cabral).

Fogo-Fátuo is an unusual film that tries a lot and doesn’t succeed with much of it, I’m afraid. It’s a film that loses depth in its creative abundance, touching on a lot but never quite satisfying.

The film poster showing Alfredo (Mauro Costa) and Afonso (André Cabral) hugging. Both are wearing firefighter uniforms.

I will say this – Fogo-Fátuo has more ideas, styles and genres in a single film than most directors will cover in an entire lifetime. And the switch between those things is certainly charming and attractive. There are science fiction elements. There is a dance scene (my personal highlight of the film). There are erotic moments. And through it all runs a comedic thread.

I think I would have liked this mix a lot better if the film hadn’t taken on such serious subject matters as the climate crisis or Portuguese colonialism and continued racism. Those subjects deserve to be treated with more seriousness and depth than this wild ride of a film allows.

Alfredo (Mauro Costa) and Afonso (André Cabral)  dancing in the firestation.

This struck me in particular with the way Rodrigues handles the relationship between Alfredo and Afonso. Part of their sexual encounters is also hurling insults at each other that come from colonialist times or references. This implies that there is an equality in whether a Black person calls a white person a colonizer or whether a white person calls a Black person a racial slur. (And that’s not even considering that Alfredo is literally a prince/the future king of Afonso.) That is such a profound misunderstanding of racials relations, racism, colonialism and white supremacy, that I would have rather had the topic omitted entirely.

Even aside from how this topic is treated (or how they deal with climate change while ignoring Alfredo’s very real political power), I couldn’t really get into the film and I thought it had considerable lengths despite its very short runtime. There were interesting parts to it, but it just didn’t come together as a whole.

Alfredo (Mauro Costa) opening a door, a thick fog drifting in with him.

Summarizing: didn’t work for me.

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