10th Annual Cine LatinoIn Focus: Francisca Manuel

By Jan Willms
Subject: Francisca Manuel, lead actress in Where I Grow Old

As a multimedia art master student, Francisca Manuel usually spends her time behind the camera, filming and editing video art works. But in 2011 when she was living in Brazil with a Portuguese scholarship, she met Marilia Rocha, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker.

“She was planning to do a documentary about Portuguese emigrants in Belo Horizonte, a city in Brazil. We spoke a lot about what it’s like living in this city and what I liked the most there. It was the starting point for two years of research for writing the script, and the documentary became a fiction film,” said Manuel.

That film, called Where I Grow Old, (A Cidade Onde Envelheco) will be shown at the Cine Latino film festival at St. Anthony Main Theatre. It is the first fictional narrative from Rocha, and is described as a warm, true to life spell that will resonate with anyone who remembers what it is like to be twenty-something and free. It focuses on the friendship of two young Portuguese women as they seek to establish new roots.

This is Manuel’s first experience as a film actress. But a reviewer called her remarkably assured and suggested she could craft a successful career in front of the camera, although she is currently a budding director of film and video.

Where I Grow Old is almost an improvisational work,” Manuel explained. “We read the script all together for two days, scene by scene, and we also watched some reference movies. After we did that, the director told us ‘Ok, now you can forget the script and let’s play.’”

Manuel described the process as a relationship of trust with everyone involved, focusing on intimacy, trust and dedication. “For each scene I had a conversation with the director about the previous and later scene,” she said, “contextualizing myself for the state of mind and emotional details. Most of the time I had to be alone to concentrate, listen to music or have a walk before filming, depending on which scene it was.”

Where I Grow Old has a naturalistic aesthetic, according to Manuel, and the preparation work process for it was really interesting because of the documentary side. “I had to live in the set of the film, the house of my character. It was, in fact, my house for 10 days. I lived alone in it to have it feel like home. I could change the furniture. I bought flowers in the market. I could decide the kind of light,” she said. “When the shooting day ended, I didn’t know what to do. Should I rest a bit? Should I cook? Should I go outside? It was a weird feeling; the space was charged with energy. The temporary home is a memory box for me, and somehow I miss this place.”

Manuel said what she liked most about playing her part was doing a lot of improvisation in the dialogue and actions of each scene. “We had a lot of acting freedom, and it turned out to be very fun doing the role. It was a joy!” she exclaimed.

Where I Grow Old has been called a gentle film. Manuel said she believes that is because it does not have so much drama, but is instead a depiction of normal life rather than a manipulative story.

She said that she admires actress Isabelle Huppert and actor Xavier Dolan. “I also like Chantal Ackerman as an actress and director in her ‘70s experimental period.”

Manuel said Rocha has directed three documentaries before working on Where I Grow Old as her first fictional film. “This film somehow approaches a biographical work, being her point of view through the main characters of the city of Belo Horizonte,” Manuel related.