‘I like that she has experimented with a vintage photo style like 8mm film, while at the same time the film protests about what is happening in our modern times against Roma.’
‘It’s a very author-driven piece, combining archive footage and an observational documentary style.’
A Golden Bear for the Best Short Film at the Berlin Film Festival has never been given to a director as young as Leonor Teles before. Teles was born in Portugal, to a family with roots in the local ‘Ciganos’ (Romani) community. In 2013, her final production at film school, Rhoma Acans, was well received, but it was Balada de um Batráquio (Batrachian’s Ballad) that made her famous worldwide, and deservedly so.
This short experimental film is both fresh and provocative; its form shows not only a perfect understanding of the medium of film but is also an example of how to take a critical approach towards a representational tradition full of clichés and commonplaces. The film’s narrative is framed by archival footage, specifically Super 8mm home movies of Teles’ family.
Meanwhile, a Romani tale is told in voiceover in the establishing sequences, with its updated paraphrasing (showing the director herself as a child) during the closing sequences. Touching on family celebrations, shots with children looking into the camera are juxtaposed with the dramatic fables told about marginalised existence. Between the home movie sequences, we are introduced to scenes of frogs in their natural habitat.
Later in the film, we witness a performance-style action in which the director visits various shops and begins to break ceramic frogs – an action that serves to destroy a symbol of Antiziganism, namely an object to ward off the Roma. Although most people do not know the origin or meaning of the ceramic frogs, if they learn about it during the act of destruction it becomes experiential learning about the goals of emancipation and the civil rights movement. ‘The film is based on the assumption, a naive one perhaps, that action might possibly trigger a change in attitude. I wanted to produce a film that is energetic, ironic and irreverent. A film in which Punk is an oppositional and political element, yet at the same time an aesthetic one. A short film as incisive, appealing and impetuous as Punk music. As a filmmaker, I felt it was important to treat the topic with the sincerity and honesty it deserved. Anything that breaks rules and defies convention almost always becomes controversial; and that is precisely what happens in Batrachian’s Ballad. It was necessary to break the frogs. If I hadn’t broken them, if I had done nothing to stop that, I wouldn’t be truly addressing the issue, I would be merely concealing it,’ says the director.
Her revolutionary action in the film makes her statement authentic and honest, providing an example of art as a powerful device for cultural resistance. Even if the protagonist/director is engaged in an act of destruction, the film itself is capable of building bridges between ‘the oppressed and the oppressor’.
Self-documented performative action proves to be an effective, strong artistic device here and in other films too (e.g. Pages of my Book).
Breaking the frogs is a metaphor for reflexive, critical thinking in general, urging changes in attitude, mentality, language and all sorts of xenophobic behaviour.
Golden Bear for Best Short Film, Berlin International Film Festival, Germany, 2016
and approximately seventy other festival participations over a period of eighteen months.
Listed here: http://portugalfilm.org/film_detail.php?cd_movie=18