Pedro Cabeleira’s “Damned Summer” is a hedonistic, visual bombardment of the senses as we watch Portuguese young folk party. It has always been that the youth of the world are united in their quest for total freedom regardless of the language they speak, the clothing they wear or the place where they live. This quest is almost always felt in the music of the generation.
Chico (Pedro Marujo) is a representative of a lifestyle of constant partying, smoking and drifting through the streets Lisbon. He embraces his youth to the fullest. “The simplicity of partying and relaxing is later a binary to the heightened mental states and intensity of emotions created during raw techno sounds and drug consumption.” For Chico and his buddies, every night represents a new possibility, new people to party with and a new girl to have. He is trapped in a space of adulthood independence, yet with a disregard for working life and instead he revels in hedonistic youth nightlife.
Most of the actors are non-professional and this adds veracity to the images on screen. Still, in specific scenes they are lost in the highly visual and melodic template of nightlife, specifically electronic music. We do not really care about what happens to Chico and because of that we are not as absorbed in the film as we could be.
The episodic nature of “Damned Summer” lets Cabeleira and his cinematographer Leonor Teles shoot different spaces in a vast array of lighting and extreme close-ups. The kaleidoscopic lighting of the rooms in which these parties are thrown is amazing and transforms viewers into these spaces of freedom— the entire creative team creates coherent visuals to match the rhythmic sounds. The film utilizes a multitude of genres to reflect the continual presence of music in the daily lives of the characters. Bold moments of silence in the midst of the nightlife on the surface seem to juxtapose the constancy of music in darkness. Perhaps this silence could also reference the emptiness to which society views these youth people’s hedonism.
This is a visually sumptuous film that allows us to excuse whatever faults the film has. The film is obviously a work of love and passion, not only for Cabeleira but also for his friends and acquaintances and the 150 actors who are taking turns in front of the camera.
The film kicks-off without a need to foreshadow or imply any kind of premise, simply and directly, following twenty-three year old Chico who slacks around his mother’s house. The handheld camera captures what seems to be free, spontaneous and unscripted interaction between characters and Cabeleira preserves the veneer of naturalism, however, the aura of authenticity, the documentary-feel, wears off in intimate encounters when the characters interact within despite improvisation and loose scriptwriting.
Our first impression is of spontaneity and somehow unscripted, freestyle, plotting continues to persist as the leading attributes here. The writer-director captures a carefree summer of fresh graduates that should be already embracing the responsibilities of adult life though are more than happily avoiding them and putting maturity on hold during supposedly the last carefree summer.
The freewheeling and impromptu style set up in the opening minutes defines the plotting built on an almost non-existent narration pulls us into cycles of daytime lethargy and nocturnal euphoria making the film´s inner rhythm more important than the plot. What Chico and his companions lack in prospects and expectations are generously overcompensating in Epicureanism with nightly Bacchanals that offer transformative and transcendental experience under the blaring of loudspeakers and with MDMA and THC in their bloodstreams. Hedonism and psychedelia both become a part of the generational portrait of Chico as a serial stoner and lover.