Aily Nash: In Occidente, you question the post-colonial relationship between Brazil and Portugal. But I see the film as simultaneously enunciating the concerns of the Anthropocene, a perspective that flattens the distinction between the cultural and the natural. You draw attention to these sites of imbalance, and the seams and emblems of unrest, perhaps suggesting an imminent break. What’s the relationship between this ecology of signs related to post-colonial discourse and that of the Anthropocene?
Ana Vaz: There is certainly an interdependent relationship between colonialism and the Anthropocene. We could say one accelerates and feeds the other, and its impact is systemic. Facing our creeping ecological ruin, we are begged to radically reconsider and analyze our relationships and activities, our vices and modes of living—this is at the heart of post-colonial discourse and something Occidente keenly speculates upon. I like to argue, along with many other thinkers, that the Anthropocene begins with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, which is the consecration of the European project, the Occidental project. So with Occidente I was thinking about what the so-called “discovery of the Americas” posed as an identity problem, both internally and externally. The backbone of Occidente is anchored in an Anthropophagic mode of thinking. Oswald de Andrade, author of the Anthropophagic Manifesto, is said to have “discovered” Brazil from afar. “From the top of an atelier in Place de Clichy, he discovered his own land,” writes Paulo Prado about de Andrade. So this reverse perspective is something we find at the basis of his theory of “devoration,” a theory that borrows from the cannibalistic rituals performed by Brazilian Amerindians, which stunned the European settlers from their very first contact.
And so very much under this rubric of “who devours who?” I went to Lisbon to shoot Occidente as a kind of reverse ethnography. I wanted to imagine the opposing trip: from the Americas into the coast of Europe, from Brazil into the port of our historic colonial administrative centre, Lisbon—an eating-up of our European roots, a ritual of devoration.
The film looks for the elastic tensions between spaces and gestures, people and social environments, animals and rites, botanic displays and museum displays, in this sense very much under this flattening you suggest between the cultural and the natural. I see Oswald’s Anthropophagic proposition as a method for a constant de-colonization of our modes of thinking, and under this logic the paradigm that opposes culture to nature is another imperative to be de-naturalized, de-colonized. So Anthropophagy is a negative philosophy that begs us to ingest our enemy only to subvert any imperial logic, any imbalance between self and other, in order to become with and within this enemy-other. So yes, to answer your question about the Anthropocene and its relationship to this (post)colonial cosmology that we are confronted with in the film, there is certainly a destabilizing logic at work, in which things are at once put in conflict and contradiction with one another, in a constant dialectic of “who colonizes who?” This is what the denomination of the Anthropocene begs us to do, to re-define our relationships in order to un-tie the naturalized binds of the Western project of domination and destruction, exclusivity and property, exploitation and exhaustion. “Life is pure devoration,” de Andrade claims in “The Crisis of Messianic Philosophy,” and I think Occidente is a film about cycles of devoration.
The European crisis which had Portugal as one of its main protagonists had me thinking about these processes of devoration and reversals. It was noticeable how Portugal was inviting its former colonies to return and inject force and vigor into their economy and social fabric, offering European passports to Brazilians who could buy property in Lisbon, and rich Brazilians entertaining the bankrupt Portuguese aristocracy, and so I felt this uncanny situation would be an interesting backdrop for this film. This is condensed, particularly in the lunch scene where the Anthropophagic question returns, the question of where to sit around the table, and of “who eats who.”
Curated by Oona Mosna.