When cinematographer Adolpho Veloso made the historic war film “Mosquito”, he threatened to lose more than just great footage and remembered the atmospheric locations in Mozambique where the project was shot for five weeks.
The true story, based on the experiences of director João Nuno Pinto’s grandfather, who was shipped to the Portuguese colony during World War I and left behind after suffering from malaria, becomes a harrowing, psychedelic journey through a dreamland.
Veloso remembered the real danger of venomous snake bites, among other things, when he filmed a handheld circling his subject, actor João Nunes Monteiro, playing the abandoned young private man Zacarias as he wandered through the homelands of Makua and struggled to capture his Find and rejoin company.
“Mosquito”, the director’s debut feature film, with which the Rotterdam Film Festival opened, will be screened in the main competition of the EnergaCamerimage Film Festival.
Adolpho Veloso spoke to Variety about the film.
The film confronts you with the opening scenes of Portuguese soldiers being piggybacked ashore by African conscripts – a powerful image that is only the first in a series of increasingly surreal ones.
It all came from the story and the character. With the malaria feeling, it was important for João Nuno Pinto, the director, to help the viewer feel just like him. He wrote the script for some of the conversations to make himself feel a bit unreal or not clear if it’s real or just in his head. In the first few conversations with him, he told me how important it was that malaria was something that you could feel. Later that was added because the movie was [originally] linear, but it resolved it. I found it very important for the viewer to feel very disoriented in order to feel like Zacarias, the main character.
How else did you decide to visually create the dreamlike state for the audience?
We went for these old anamorphic Lomo Super Speed lenses – very, very funky with a lot of character. They were really hard to work with. The only lens that worked really well was the 50mm lens. So in the end we shot everything with the 50mm, which was good. It helps us feel the point of view as we are with Zacarias most of the time and only see what he sees. And it also gave us the ability to move the camera, keep spinning around him, and get a little dizzy.
The effect is enhanced by night scenes with deep, flickering shadows when the actors are lit with candlelight and lanterns. Have you ever used modern lights?
We made a decision early on to only use natural sources because that was what they had in Mozambique back then – just fire. So we decided to just take it. I think it was good because there was a sense of this unexplored world. The soldier really wants to go to France with all his pride, but he is sent to Mozambique. The fire was good because I feel all you can do to make the actors feel like the characters could help them. I couldn’t imagine being an actor trying to perform with all of these SkyPanel LED lights.
That had to be a challenge for you to lose control at times.
It was a nightmare at times because a lot of the scenes are really long. We’d go for long sequences, which was a choice we made early on. For some sequences that would last longer than three minutes and the fire would go out, I would say, “Please wrap the scene – wrap the scene!” We didn’t have a lot of control.
The added flexibility must have been exciting though, especially when shooting in such wild places.
I love this type of shooting – you have less crew and we were almost guerrilla style and a lot of it came from us, which was possible because we had a small crew. We could spend days traveling just to get to a good place, which is not possible with a larger crew. So we basically made the decision not to have any lights. We had a SkyPanel that we ended up using as a work light more than any night sequence. I ended up using it for an indoor daytime scene when I was in a really tiny room with no natural light coming in.
How much usable natural light would you get each day and how did you maximize it?
The good thing was that the whole crew would wait for the good light and we would rehearse in the bad light. The sun goes down there very quickly and we tried to get these scenes in low light so that we would rehearse much earlier in the day and only do three or four takes.