Sunday, 8 March 2009

20,13 (Portugal, 2006)

Director: Joaquim Leitão.

Principal cast: Marco D'Almeida, Adriano Carvalho, Carla Chambel, Maya Booth.

It happens ever so often that people resort to religious arguments against homosexuality not because they are very religious but simply because they have run out of any rational ones. And these religious arguments are apparently powerful enough to lead to committing what ought to be considered as the ultimate sin – a murder of another human being. It seems, however, that in the minds of many so-called Christians homosexuality is a far worse sin than murder and they will murder you for your homosexuality believing that they are acting according to the will of God. But actual reasons for committing a homophobic murder can, nevertheless, be very prosaic and far more selfish than “saving” humanity from the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the acclaimed Portuguese director Joaquim Leitão’s latest feature “20,13” it’s nothing else but scorned love.

The film’s plot is set on Christmas Eve of 1969 in a Portuguese army outpost in Mozambique during the ongoing colonial war. The outpost’s commander’s wife is flown in by a helicopter to join her husband on this occasion, only the good captain doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed with joy. In the meantime, an away mission headed by Lieutenant Gaio returns with a prisoner from the rebels’ forces reporting of some suspicious activity on the other side of the border. The prisoner is thrown into a makeshift cell while the reports of an imminent attack are dismissed as smugglers’ activities by the visiting Colonel who came with the same helicopter as the captain’s wife. It’s Christmas Eve and the army unit, seemingly consisting mainly of semiliterate country bumpkins from Salazar’s Portugal are mostly preoccupied with the approaching Christmas party.

Still, not everyone has partying on their minds as the private Vicente is doing his best entertaining the crowd singing a coquettish duo with Esperança, the unit’s paramedic’s wife. The captain suddenly leaves looking distraught while Esperança’s husband is steaming with jealousy, accusing her later on of rubbing herself up against every man in the unit. But it doesn’t last long before the cheerful party comes to an abrupt end just as the field chaplain is about to deliver his sermon when several shells explode outside and the unit finds itself under attack. The ensuing turmoil comes to a swift end when the enemy cannon suddenly stops shelling but it is soon discovered that someone attempted to murder the prisoner in his cell during the attack. The whole situation becomes even more enigmatic when Lieutenant Gaio and his fellow investigators also discover a passage from the Bible written in blood in the prisoner’s cell which turns out to be a quote from Genesis: Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah - from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities - and also the vegetation in the land.

The prisoner is quickly brought to the unit’s medical bay where Esperança’s jealous husband is baffled by the unauthorised absence of Vicente, his asistant. After several more sporadic attacks on the unit, the paramedic decides to go looking for Vicente only to find him lying inside one of the barracks shot dead and with a piece of paper in his hand with another quote from the Bible written on it: if a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. The chaplain consults the Bible and finds out that the text found in the murdered private’s hand is the exact wording of Leviticus 20:13 (hence the title of the film) and he and Lieutenant Gaio set out on a murder investigation riddled with Biblical references while the “burning sulphur” literally is pouring over their heads as the enemy attacks resume. But does anyone really want to know the truth?

There is no doubt that by placing the story’s protagonists in the middle of a dirty colonial war the director questions the morality of the people who can only be described as moralistic bigots. When “God” starts “raining the burning sulphur” over the colonial army unit, is it because of the homosexual love found there or is it because it’s fighting a war where the only thing that counts is the body count? If the former were the case, I’m afraid it would be raining burning sulphur everywhere in the world pretty much non-stop. No, the burning sulphur came upon them for completely different reasons. And it certainly didn’t come from God or any other divine being. Those, who frothing at the mouth talk of God’s will and spend their lives shouting about it till they get blue in the face often drop dead with a heart attack. Wouldn’t you call that God’s will?

“20,13” is a drama of surpressed passions where glances are more honest than words since honest words dare not be uttered. Full of emotional tension and aptly illustrated horrors of war, Joaquim Leitão’s attempt to combine a colonial war with the issues of morality and Bible-bashing comes across as an honest voice raised against the criminal double-facedness of not just the army in question but the society it claims to defend at large. But it is also a murder mystery, so if you want to know who did it, you’ll have to watch it for yourselves!

Here you can watch the film's trailer (in Portuguese):

1 comment:

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