While making the period war film “Mosquito,” cinematographer Adolpho Veloso found himself at risk of losing more than great shots, he said, recalling the richly atmospheric locations in Mozambique, where the project filmed 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 then left behind after falling ill with malaria, becomes a harrowing, psychedelic journey through a dreamland.
Veloso recalled the real danger of poison snake bites among other hazards as he filmed handheld, encircling his subject, actor João Nunes Monteiro, playing the forlorn young private, Zacarias, as he wanders throughout the Makua native lands, endeavoring to find and rejoin his company.
“Mosquito,” the director’s feature debut, which opened the Rotterdam film fest, screens in the EnergaCamerimage Film Festival’s main competition.
Adolpho Veloso spoke to Variety about the film.
The film confronts you from the opening scenes, in which Portuguese soldiers are carried to shore piggyback by African conscripts – a powerful image that’s just the first in a series of increasingly surreal ones.
It all came from the story and from the character. With the malaria feeling, it was important for João Nuno Pinto, the director, to help the viewer feel the same way as him. He wrote the script for some of the conversations to feel a bit unreal or it’s not clear if it’s real or just in his mind. In the first conversations with him he told me how important it was that the malaria is something that’s felt. Later on that was added to because the film was [originally] linear but he broke it up. I felt it was very important for the viewer to feel very disoriented to feel like Zacarias, the main character, was.
How else did you decide to help create the dream-like state for audiences visually?
We chose those 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 really worked well was the 50mm. So in the end we kind of shot everything with the 50mm, which was good. It helps us with the point-of-view feeling as we’re almost all the time with Zacarias, just seeing what he’s seeing. And it also gave us the way to move the camera, to always be spinning around him, to make yourself dizzy a bit.
The effect is enhanced by night scenes with deep, flickering shadows as actors are illuminated with candle light and lanterns. Did you use any modern lights at all?
We decided early on to use just natural sources because back then that would have been what they had in Mozambique – just fire. So we decided to just embrace it. I think it was good because it gave a sense of that unexplored world. The soldier really wants to go to France with all his pride but he’s sent to Mozambique. The fire was good because I feel everything you can do to make the actors feel like the characters might help them. I couldn’t imagine myself being an actor and trying to perform with all these SkyPanel LED lights around.
That had to be a challenge for you in terms of losing control sometimes.
It was a nightmare sometimes because lots 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 go on for more than three minutes and the fire would start to go out and I’d be going, ‘Please wrap the scene – wrap the scene!’ We didn’t have much control.
But the added flexibility must have been exciting, especially when shooting in such wild locations.
I love this way of shooting – you have less crew and we were almost like guerrilla-style with lots coming from us moving around, which was possible because we had a small crew. We could spend days just traveling to get to a good location, something not possible when you have a bigger crew. So we decided basically not to have any lights. We had one SkyPanel that we ended up using more as a work light than any night sequences. I finally used it for a day scene in the interior when were in a really tiny space where no natural light would come.
How much useable natural lights 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 really fast there and we were trying to get those low-light scenes so we would rehearse a lot earlier in the day and would shoot just three, four takes.