The archive is as much a site of invention and improvisation as of the preservation of time. In the documentary Pictures of Ghosts, Kleber Mendonça Filho undertakes an introspective archival exercise by engaging with a life-long repository of home videos, photographs, and footage from films he shot during his formative years. He structures a porous tripartite narrative reflecting his attachments and idiosyncrasies.
The visuals chronicle the home he grew up in as a cinephile, the neighbourhood that piqued his cinematic curiosities, and the changing landscapes of film theatres in his hometown of Recife in Brazil. While the documentary proceeds like an archaeological exploration of lost film spaces and cultures, the director’s storytelling method invests it with critical reflexivity. Instead of shaping the archival stock to a predetermined narrative arc, he follows minor cues of resemblances, continuities, shifts, and glitches.
As a result, the film often veers toward fantasmatic moments: an unidentifiable spectral figure appears in an old photograph, or a distortion in a digital recording emits a cryptic signal. Here, contingency emerges as a playful guiding principle in crafting the archival tale. There is also an implicit awareness of fictionality in Filho’s interaction with the archive, which finds a culminating expression in the film’s unexpectedly surreal ending scene.
The historical and the personal, or the official and the vernacular, merge in this closely felt rendering of Recife’s vibrant cultural relationship with cinema. It moves like an epistolary ode to the accessible, community-centric film cultures increasingly swamped by corporatised multiplex networks.