Convento São Francisco de Mértola
A DOC/ART FILM BY JARRED ALTERMAN
Convento Film is more than a film to watch. Convento is a film immersion. At the convergence of the rivers Oeiras and Guadiana, along what some believe to be a ley line possessing mystical energies, rises the four hundred year old monastery Sao Francisco. Its light earthen walls, marked by the sun and time, house a labyrinth of terraces, courtyards, gardens and fountains, all offering secret places to contemplate. An ancient irrigation system delivers water throughout, a silvery artery connecting all life. The monastery is surrounded by a surrealist storybook landscape, an amalgam of desert palms and cacti and a forest’s darker, cooler life, within which animals of all kinds secretly contemplate. Originally built for an abbot and twelve monks, it is now a home, nature preserve, and artist’s studio.
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Geraldine and her late husband Kees, and her two sons, Christiaan and Louis, left Holland in 1980 trading a life of comfort and convenience for a monastery in ruins. A former dancer with The Dutch National Ballet Company, Geraldine left Holland to pursue a “dream” having grown weary of the repetitious monotony of classical choreography. She is a painter, sculptor and tireless tender of numerous edible gardens, from which she eats something daily. While she has stopped performing, she has never stopped moving.
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Once a house of worship, there is a chapel now converted and dedicated to Christiaan’s work. A kinetic artist, he rescues the skulls and bony remains of the expired indigenous wildlife from an eternity of sun-dried decay, and then reanimates them with bodies of servomechanism. He creates a “tension” between Nature’s machinery and that which is man-made.
As motors hum and whir, his bio-mechanicals walk, talk, and fly, once again breathing new breath. They may be fleshless, but certainly not lifeless. Christiaan’s engineering feats for the monastery are as beautiful as they are practical. He resurrected a derelict waterwheel that is now the leviathan heart of the aqua system. It is true functioning art.
Director Jarred Alterman shepherds the audience to this inspirational sanctuary, leading them by the eyes. Throughout the film’s body he weaves micro-narratives: scenes that are uniquely lit, filmed, edited, and scored, fortifying each with its own personality, and providing the Zwanikkens with their own personal visual diaries. Alterman’s concern for an honest and faithful representation of this incredible place is obvious. His frames have the composition, color, and complexity of paintings, except his move. Not one fountain’s spray or one sculpture’s gaze unfelt, not one birdsong unheard. He creates an intoxicating serenity through motion, allowing the audience to meditate upon what they are seeing and hearing as it is happening.
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Written By Michael Budinger www.michaelbudinger.com