Keeping It Simple

By Heitor Augusto

Joaquim Pinto's and Nuno Leonel's documentary on artisanal fishing manages to be more then a pure registry.

FISH TAIL (RABO DE PEIXE, Portugal, Berlinale Forum), is a documentary about an artisanal fishing village in the Azores. We see the daily routine of the workers, try to understand their dialect, observe their faces, feel the threat of death from the sea, and share their dilemmas as a community and as individuals. What could have been just an ordinary documentary about a traditional form of fishing becomes instead, through Joaquim Pinto's and Nuno Leonel's powerful shots, a visual essay on honest friendship, and a poetic comment on redefining one's identity while getting in touch with a new environment. This is a tender registry of a world whose very existence is nearing its end because of the impeding implementation of the Euro Zone.

Pinto's and Leonel's approach to their material is rooted in their fascination for a place that is different than the familiar context they knew on the continent. The voiceover shows us how moved they are by the village of Rabo de Peixe. One of the strengths of this film is that the filmmakers present banal events through an enchanted perspective that reflects their genuine interest in the characters' lives.

Rui, a farmer who becomes a fisherman after marrying and joining his father-in-law's business, does not know how to swim, which is an obvious necessity for a fisherman. After several failures in his attempts to learn, Rui finally manages to overcome his fear of water and swim a reasonable distance without drowning. The filmmakers capture Rui's feelings through his face which turns this simple swim into an Ulysses-like journey, as if he had returned home after a long adventure like Homer's hero.

This is a film that stays in our memory long after the screening is over. FISH TALE leaves us with a bitter-sweet taste. We a feel a sadness for the end of that world, but it is accompanied by a feeling of happiness for having been fortunate enough, through this documentary, to share in these people's lives.