US PREMIERE: 23 February 2013 (MoMA Documentary Fortnight)
After the Fall
Paulo de Figueiredo – sixty-six years old, a man with no identification, no civil records about him, who lives under a bridge in Beckettian austerity with other homeless of the city.
He has been brought to the basement of an abandoned palace, where he sits in a chair, center of frame. He knows he is being filmed, that he will be judged by the audiences who see this film in the not-distant future, after he has died. That is why he is here.
Alone but for her camera man and sound man, Salomé Lamas sat within striking distance of Paulo de Figueiredo and asked him the hard questions.
His is the only voice we hear, his the only face we see. A series of numbered title frames punctuate his recollections, like a silent echo of his interlocutor’s questions. He keeps his off-camera questioner in his gaze, engaging and revolting in equal parts. He holds our attention completely throughout the film’s 72 minutes. Mirabile dictu, a human link is established, inexorably, between subject and film maker, and now the audience.
From the 1960s to through the 1990s, Paulo de Figueiredo served in Rhodesia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Basque country, among other places, variously as commando, mercenary, security-bodyguard and assassin.
Arrested trying to cross into Spain after a killing in France, he was convicted in the absence of a corpse and sentenced to thirty years maximum security, where he was isolated in a 1.5 meter by 12 meter cell, with a television for company and one hour a day alone in a dog run for exercise. He was released to the streets after ten years, for good behavior.
We assume Paulo de Figueiredo is blending memories and fantasy as he describes his journeys and jobs, drawing distinctions between his work as a soldier-mercenary, security guard-bodyguard and killer-assassin, and that of his eternal target – the terrorist.
Throughout his career, Paulo de Figueiredo happily killed terrorists. “Like taking a drink of water. Brandy, rather. I don’t like water.” He holds his enemy in contempt. “Cowards, they enjoy killing the innocent.” He details atrocities with sangfroid, even good humor. “For great evils, a strong remedy.”
For Paulo de Figueiredo, a life of murder and punishment began with childhood in colonial Angola, which he recalls wistfully, as Eden before the Fall. “It was wonderful. Portugal doesn’t know what it lost.”