‘António e Catarina’ captures immortality of attraction

Cristina Hanes rewrites the rules of affection in “António e Catarina,” which follows her own fraught relationship with Augusto Manuel.

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While completing her documentary filmmaking degree in a transcontinental program based in Lisbon, Portugal, director Cristina Hanes met Augusto. In Portugal, as well as in Hungary and Belgium, Hanes filmed her way through the DOC NOMADS program. In Antonio e Catarina, Hanes films her relationship with Augusto, who gets most of the screen time in her 40-minute documentary. His long gray hair (think Christopher Lloyd) and sour face are lit only by the yellow street lights outside his downtown apartment window. Augusto is usually lying down on his bed or looking out the window onto the street at the entrance to the nightclub, which he surmises is a prostitution ring. It’s the life one would imagine a 70-year-old man living in downtown Lisbon.

But sometimes we see him dancing and singing, too, and this is what makes “António e Catarina” so special — the worn-out but very much alive remnants of youth in Augusto that Hanes captures. Augusto sings along to “The French Elvis” Johnny Hallyday, staring past the camera where Hanes spends most of her time: “You awaken my spirit. You give me strength.” Whether the spirit she awakens is one the viewer can reconcile, however, is another matter entirely.

Questions of sexuality well after middle age are, however peripherally, fascinatingly addressed. Augusto’s crass appraisals of 25-year-old Cristina are at once discomfiting and intriguing. “You make me horny,” he says, returning from Cristina’s side of the camera. “I got horny just now.” Even alone in the dark apartment, there is no real apprehension and no threat of violence. This is partly because of Augusto’s frail body, but also because one suspects he is greatly exaggerating his potency. A tacky postcard that he sends to Cristina pictures a young man and woman walking hand-in-hand on the beach, their young bodies tan and oiled, intended to represent the two of them. It’s hard to think even crazy old Augusto fails to see the humor in this. After a long life dominating over women, he is only speaking out of habit, a longing for youth lost. “If I were 23, you wouldn’t resist me.”

Their relationship is, at its best, ethereally sensitive and refreshingly human. Hanes, through her adornment of Augusto, carefully neutralizes aversion to a relationship with such a profound age difference. So much so, in fact, that a candid conversation about masturbation feels natural and kind of cute, and maybe affects you the same way that heartfelt paternal concern might. “It takes me 4-5 minutes,” Augusto says. The voice behind the camera is patient. “That is good,” Christina replies. “Do you have toys?” he asks. “All the girls on TV have toys,” he says. In that moment, we are happy he has met the real girl behind the camera.

After the show, during Q&A, a young man in the front row confidently asked whether she felt guilty about exploiting Augusto. It seemed like she was leading him on, he said. Augusto had asked something similar. “You felt something when we met?” Yes, she answers, albeit not what Augusto — or his male counterparts in the audience — might have hoped. He suspects she’s more interested in filming than being ‘with him,’ and she doesn’t object. “Do you think I’m a bad person?” she asks. “I don’t think in those terms,” Augusto says. And, leaving the theater, one is sure — neither does Christina.

Edited by Claire Colby | ccolby@themaneater.com

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