Carlos Kong over Cartas Da Guerra
“My forget-me-not” is one of the many terms of endearment that protagonist António calls his unnamed wife throughout Ivo M. Ferreira’s ‘Cartas da Guerra’ (Portugal, 2016), an autobiographical adaptation of António Lobo Antunes’ war letters anthology D’este viver aqui neste papel descripto. A Portuguese military doctor stationed in Angola during the Portuguese Colonial War, António (played by Miguel Nunes) regularly writes love letters to his wife in Lisbon. The narration of the wife’s voice reading aloud António’s eloquent declarations is overlaid onto both expressive black-and-white sequences of war-ravaged rural Angola and a roaring classical music soundtrack (including Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake), all of which together constitute the film’s characteristic epistolary frame. Beyond its floral metaphor, “my forget-me-not” literalizes the central duality that letter writing performs in ‘Cartas’, as António’s possibility of not forgetting his past in Portugal, and as the means of surviving his traumatic war-torn present.
The most puzzling aspect of ‘Cartas’ is that none of the unidentified wife’s letters are read aloud—unclear if both are even existent—negating the redemptive potential of acknowledgement, reciprocation, and return. While this unilateral dynamic bears witness to António’s vulnerability and emotional turmoil, it counterproductively neutralizes contextual complexity into various loose ends that treacherously veer towards universalizing and romanticizing pity at the expense of calling colonial occupation and war into question. Abstracting the violence of colonialism through António’s one-sided epistolary escapes, ‘Cartas da Guerra’ makes clear that war not simply takes place somewhere outside but is also firstly fought elsewhere—inside of us.