By Saulo Pereira de Mello
“Vis superba formae”
(Maximen und Reflexionen, 362)
“Limite” has a prologue, an initial key sequence, a tragic situation shown in this sequence, a theme that comes out in this moment, three stories that are the development of this theme – with rhythmical turns to that situation – a climax, an upshot and an epilogue.
The prologue, which is a sequence out of the diegesis of the film, is based on the prime picture of “Limite” – an elemental prototypal image that gave rise to all the others: that woman and the hands shackled in the foreground. The successive pictures in “Limite” are a metamorphosis of this prototypal image, an allegory of the theme.
The theme, which is introduced in the prologue by the prototypal image, is the essential human limitation, the craving for the infinite and an outcry against the tragic shock between this craving and its own essential limitation and also against the tragic consequences caused by this shock: defeat, frustration, despair, escape and death – sub-themes of “Limite”.
The initial sequence shows the situation and the characters: three shipwrecked people (two women and one man), astray in an adrift boat in the middle of the ocean, tell one another their stories. In this sequence – the key image for Limite – we have the overall theme of the film shown in pictures of the diegesis, the rhythm, the cadence, the formal and technical style, the conception of the image, the direction and the atmosphere. “Limite” is aesthetically based upon what this sequence announces. We can clearly perceive the imminence of tragedy and death: a fierce and dread thunderstorm is brewing, foreseen by the gloomy rolling of the adrift boat and felt by the wind that messes up their hair. Everything is tragedy in that boat where the characters are in tatters: the skyline, the gunwales of the boat, and the deadpan and hopeless faces of the characters in their fateful and sad immobility. Behind their mineral faces, which are partially covered by the hair, lies a queer peacefulness of the despair of knowing that fighting is fruitless – because fighting means struggling with an infinite universe whose presence is felt in the skyline. The characters, whose faces show us the tragic theme of the film, have more than psychological peculiarities; they have a story to tell. They are nothing more than determinations of the human enclosed in the limits of his own finite lifetime which the short space in the boat symbolizes. In that boat, the tragic present takes place while waiting for a terrible future. In it, the action is factual. Towards it converge the characters and the upshot of the three stories – which change, enlighten and explain the situation in the boat. The stories told have a keen influence on the fate of the boat and the narration reveals the huge tragedy of those lives and of the human existence itself.
These three stories are the main structure of the film. They portray disappointment, frustration, defeat, escape, decadence, death, despair, struggle against chains, clogs, limitations imposed by mankind’s craving for infinite freedom. They express, amplify and develop formally and technically the theme in accordance with the initial sequence. All the images of these stories with a fragile narrative structure are like the metamorphoses of the prologue images. They are based upon this symbolic sense rather than upon the narrative structure, begetting a story of classical conception. Its meanings, rhythms, framing, the characters’ attitudes and angles are based upon a symbolic intention rather than upon a descriptive viewpoint. “Limite” does not narrate or it does it sparingly. Actually, it emphasizes and re-emphasizes, states and re-states and always repeats obsessively the protean picture. But it does not make a pure and simple repetition: it re-states, re-emphasizes and completes the allegory of the film in successive and well-produced metamorphic pictures (doors, windows, bars, skyline, wall, fences, ruins). There is always an obstacle between the camera and the scene seen (spokes of a wagon wheel, trees, rudder and propeller), always the restraint. The stories, based on this purpose, this revealment of the allegory of the film, end up becoming longer, highly finished and more complex: Olga’s story is shorter and easier to be understood while Raul’s is longer, more complicated and much more elaborate.
The stories always bring back, with growing complexity, the scenes of the restraint of prison and of the limit, which causes the escape, the obsessive walking, the convergence towards the boat – factual pictures of this cosmic drama. The boat stands for reality of Limite. In each story, everything converges to the narrow and tragic space in the boat in a desperate and peaceful way: the rhythm, hopelessness, the bad omen, the tragic fate of the characters defeated by the self-limitation of their own lifetime. The microcosmos arranged in the boat becomes more suffocating and full of despair each time we return to it. We can feel the upshot approaching, in which we can find the magnitude of “Limite” as a film and as a masterpiece: it would be just a collection of obvious and pretentious symbols if the images and the film editing were not produced as they were. It is the realization that constructs Limite as a masterpiece.
The climax of the film takes place almost in the end of Raul’s story, the longest and most elaborate: it is a long pan shot over the sky, with round and uncommon camera movements; it starts with Raul’s muddy feet trying to run away desperately and hobblingly from his own limited and cruel fate, it goes up over the bleak landscape and moves very slowly across a white sky, as white as an arch, a suffocating dome, in a meridian round movement. And finally goes down again over the landscape as far as Raul’s hand, buried in the sand like a claw. This chiefly dynamic picture, which has only meaning along with a succession of images linked to it organically, is in everything opposite to the space and plastic feature from that it is derived and from which is also the final metamorphosis: the woman and the hands in shackles. The metamorphosis of the allegory into symbols, of the static image into dynamic one, of the isolated image, valid in itself, into an image viscerally linked to all the others that had already been presented. It is in this moment that “Limite” reveals its meaning. It is in this moment that we harrowingly feel the greatness, the thrill, the meanings and all the pathos of the film: we can see clearly and factually the emotion of our tragic self-limitation being lived intensively, surprisingly, touchingly and restlessly. Now we are aware that we are prisoners of our own finite and poor existence. When Raul buried his hands into the sand, we could clearly see the expression of our defeated craving for the infinite – a cosmic and universal defeat which loads the entire universe with lamentation and anguish. This limitless sky is like a glass dome, a barrier which the man’s hand cannot grasp. The fusion of this hand into the grave, where he played his tragic part, is symbolic: it shows an imminent death which will be emphasized by the successive crosses. They evoke the lugubrious end of the landscape and of the film, of the universe and the purposelessness of the escape. In the end, we will be again in that boat: an atmosphere of deep desolation and sadness where there is a sensation of imminent tragedy.
The outcome is the thunderstorm which results from this sensation of imminent disgrace – a sensation which got bigger and bigger inside that boat and that is unavoidable now. The sequence of the thunderstorm gives an end to the film thematically and formally. Thematically because it causes the expected upshot to take place all the time, and that at last makes us find it unavoidable, and formally because, due to the great amount of quickly edited takes in a progression, the slow rhythm and cadence are broken up making the film more and more nerve-racking.
One of the main traits of the film is this total relation between depth and shape. For the sequence of the thunderstorm, the theme and all the other pictures are converged by the editing process. After that great pan shot over the sky – the climax of the film – the situation in the boat is unbearable: everything is in the air, everything has already been told, lived and made – it is only missing the outcome to happen; it means, the death which is represented by the thunderstorm. Now we can feel it clearly. It was always present in the film, as well as the tragedy. It manifested itself in the wind which fiercely blows in all stories, lashing the grasslands, preventing Raul from lighting his cigarette, messing up the hair, whipping the clothes, slamming the doors, in its full magnitude and fury. It comes from the skyline, the symbol of limitation and hopelessness, and puts an end to the situation through death, and to the editing process through the rhythm.
The epilogue takes place when the thunderstorm ends – the peacefulness prevails again; however, one can still feel the lamentation over the human defeat. Olga, grasped to a piece of the wreckage, fades away slowly into the sea. The uncommon reappearance of the protean image during these lugubrious realistic images, finally unveils the prime meaning of the film which now is a symbol of limitation. Limite achieves what Goethe would name the aim of poetry: to represent the universe in its particularity. Now we know and feel with a deep and tragic emotion, beyond reason, what Limite stands for.