A revealing and illuminating film about the mindless violence perpetrated against women in a small country at the end of colonial rule.
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The year is 1975 and Mozambiquans are celebrating the end of colonial rule. It’s early evening and dozens of women are getting ready for a night out. Outside a very busy club, prostitutes are plying their trade. Rosa, a tall, mini-skirted, handsome woman with attitude ploughs her way through the crowd, desperate for a client. She disappears into the hotel as the Marxist revolutionary soldiers start to force their way in. The women are rounded up and all are considered to be prostitutes, including Margarida, a 16-year-old virgin from a nearby village who has been in town to buy a trousseau before her wedding. They are taken by bus into the deep forest, where they are systematically disciplined and abused under the watchful eye of the ruthless Comandante Maria João, until one day a soldier offers to take Margarida back to the village. A film that’s revealing and illuminating about the mindless violence perpetrated against women in this small country at the end of colonial rule.
As a writer and filmmaker, my point of departure is always reality. The idea of Virgin Margarida came to me while directing some years ago a documentary dealing with the ‘re-education’ process which Mozambican prostitutes went through immediately after independence. The only way I could deal with it, then, was through the testimonies of former prostitutes and of a commander responsible for one of the re-education centres located in the inaccessible forests in the north of the country. The Last Prostitute – the documentary title – became an obsession to me, for the wealth of human tragedy behind the testimonies and the enormous potential of the theme.
Through many of my experiences as a writer and filmmaker, I have learned that what is not possible to obtain the best way through documentary, at the right moment, in the right way, is attainable through fiction which, by giving us more freedom, allows us to dive deeply into the more obscure side of reality. This is what I want to achieve. Virgin Margarida is based on real characters behind the artistic freedom I allow myself. Besides telling part of the little-known recent history of the country, I want to narrate the tragic and absurd side of a socio-political process where the collective does not leave room for the individual, with all the negative implications that implies. With this story, I try to confront the spectator with the notion that fundamentalism, in its various facets is, on many occasions, the result of good intentions at the service of an ideology. The history of humanity up to our days is full of elucidative examples. This story situated in an African country and in a specific context only enhances its universality. I trust this film has the potential to be seen and understood by audiences worldwide, because it deals with emotions and feelings connected to the bases of humanity.
Brazilian-born (in Porto Alegre in 1951), this under-recognised animateur of African cinema describes himself as Latin-African. A trained journalist, he left Brazil when the military dictatorship closed the newspaper where he worked and arrested many of his colleagues, and he zigzagged Africa before settling in post-colonial Mozambique in 1978, with a writing job at the newly-founded National Institute of Cinema courtesy of his links with filmmaker Rui Guerra. This translated primarily into teaching filmmaking to those charged with making educational shorts for the new Mozambican TV service, or directing them himself, and attracting guest filmmakers/activists such as Guerra, Jean Rouch and Jean-Luc Godard. The immediate legacy of the latter’s visit was an almost wholesale adoption of video production, and while the Institute sadly shut down shortly thereafter, the new medium facilitated links with the likes of Britain’s Channel 4 and BBC and Germany’s ZDF. Azevedo has continued to make on average a film a year, through his production company Ebano Multimedia, with such foreign funding.
Docs or drama-docs unless stated.
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