Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

A payphone rings, unanswered, its chimes echoing mournfully through the empty hallways of a blue-lit hospital interior. This sequence, at the centre of Sandro Aguilar's debut feature Uprise, serves as an apt metaphor for the film itself – a film that seems always to be transmitting a signal, but that never reveals its content. If 'enigmatic' and 'elliptical' are qualities that turn you off, and if you regard 'Lynchian' as a synonym for 'unwatchable', then stop reading now, and avoid this film at all costs – but if you are still curious, still intrigued, then Uprise may well be the film for you, focusing less on pat solutions than on the elegant texture of the puzzle itself.

It is Christmas, in the sterile environment of a Lisbon hospital. Rui (António Pedroso) drifts through the lonely corridors, as he waits to visit his elderly father, unconscious and dying in one of the wards. Also there is an unnamed woman (Isabel Abreu) whose husband has just died in a car accident and who has herself just given birth. The two eventually meet, drawn together by Rui's bleeding nose and a shared sense of loss - but their lives, whether in memories or dreams, already seem intertwined, as birth and death, chronology and identity all become blurred in a crepuscular interzone of muted suffering and miraculous survivals.

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Fragmentary, allusive in style, and slipping fluidly from impressionistic flashbacks to scrambled dreams, Uprise is not so much a narrative as a series of suggestions for a number of possible narratives. Is the comatose patient Rui's father, or might it be Rui himself? And could the woman be (a now dead) Rui's wife, or even the mother from whom Rui was separated as a boy? Are we witnessing a psychogenic fugue? A yuletide metempsychosis?

In a more conventional film, expository dialogue would be the glue that would hold these questions together, but here words are kept to an absolute minimum, apart from in the film's climactic (and least reliable) sequence at 'the real party', and all that we have left either to help or further bewilder us is a range of recurrent motifs – chiefly dogs, dolls and drowning – that form an obscure cross-thread through the film's different strands.

"We're all here. There is food, drink and anything else you might need." So Rui is assured when he arrives at an orgiastic late-night office party, having apparently driven there alone on his motorbike from the scene of an accident. It is open to question whether Rui is really at the party, or indeed where exactly 'here' is supposed to be, but his friend's words nonetheless convey a truth that is key to Uprise. No matter how impenetrable the film's narrative, no matter how out of focus (metaphorically, and sometimes literally) its characters, the mysteries that it addresses transcend mere genre, coming instead out of life itself, bounded as it is by birth and death, and filled in between with longing, loss and confusion. Look closely enough at the odd, seemingly arbitrary dramas that make up Aguilar's film, and you might just find that we are, indeed, all here.

If such chilly humanism is not enough for you, there is always the immaculate ambient sound design to admire, not to mention Aguilar's intriguing way of framing his shots so that you are never quite sure where to look. For in visual as well as narrative hermeneutic terms, this is a film that leaves viewers to do much of the work for themselves. For some, that will prove too much labour with (perhaps) too little reward – but those who stay the distance and put in the effort might just find themselves as haunted as the hospital's buzzing corridors.

Reviewed on: 03 Jan 2009
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A man meets a pregnant woman in a hospital... but have they met before?

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Darren Amner *


London 2008

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