A black and white correspondence between an army medic and his new wife, Ivo Ferreira’s Letters Of War is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of war.
Portuguese Man of Warby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Documenting the mental state of army doctor Antonio (Miguel Nunes) shipped off to Angola in 1971 for two years, Ivo Ferreira’s Letters From War is a masterpiece of juxtaposition. While we’re confronted with black and white images of Antonio’s life on the battlefield, his expectant wife reads his letters by way of accompaniment. It’s more like a musical composition than a dramaturgy, delicately rolling from one symphonic movement to the next. And rather than a naturalistic account of the horrors of war, the tone of Ferreira’s film is poetic and literary, befitting Antonio’s ambitions as a novelist, and matching João Ribeiro’s stunning monochrome cinematography on the battlefield, as we witness Antonio ship out, attend the wounded or sit idly by waiting for the next letter. He’s a quiet man, and dialogue is sparse, but as time progresses his letters from the front become shorter, brutalised by war and the atrocities he cannot pass on to his wife, becoming gradually embittered as time stretches unbearably on. But while ultimately, there’s a leap between the brutal realities of war and the beautiful words and images of Letters From War, Ivo Ferreira’s film is mesmerising from start to end, and most likely the most poetic war film you’ll ever see.
Letters From War is now showing at the 66th Berlin Film Festival