The short film, Mar (2017), by the young Portuguese-Canadian filmmaker, William Vitória, is a brilliant and complex meditation on the meaning of love and the dark, monstrous primitive emotions we are all capable of acting upon.
Mar opens with a stunning view of the ocean and rocks along the coast of Portugal. Gorgeously filmed, the short film packs in so many layers of meaning through sparse but revealing dialogue, and brief vignettes that entice us to follow the story of a couple, Xavier and Eduardo, who go on vacation to visit a childhood friend, living with his mother, in the coastal town of Peniche.
This short film (24 minutes and 34 seconds) is long in ideas, and leaves us wondering, shot after shot, what is the mystery or the secret that we can only suspect through hints or clues, such as the scene where Cristovão, the handsome host who is also the monster in the story, slides an octopus into a jar and seals it, adding it to his collection of other jars filled with captured marine life. In another scene, he cries to his mother pleading he doesn’t want to be a monster, yet she, who knows his secret, powerfully keeps him under control through her words and watchful eyes, or does she?
And we are never really sure why he is a monster: we suspect; we are taken, like voyeurs, inside the dark cave where the disturbing secret possibly hides; but the director insists viewers discover their own interpretations and meanings. As with everything else in this dense and carefully-crafted film, it’s possible to have multiple interpretations of the layers of meaning carefully veiled in suggestion, nuance, symbolism, suspense, a gaze, a carefully chosen piece of music, a word in the dialogue, a notebook of drawings, a cave. All these provide us with clues, and even when we think we have solved the mystery, can we really be sure that this is all there is to the secret?
Mar left me wanting to see more. The ending came abruptly, but the director had shown enough to leave me unsettled in my thinking, and wanting to backtrack to see the film again, just to make sure that I had understood. But the monster is within each of us, and so it’s up to each viewer to define the mystery.
I am looking forward to future films by this very talented young director who already delivers the promise of mature film-making at its best in Mar.
Photos by Emanuel Melo: Atlantic Ocean, Azores