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Movie Review: Pictures of Ghosts (2024)


Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho presents an intimate and enchanting documentary, “Pictures of Ghosts,” centered on his hometown of Recife.

While Recife may not be as globally recognized as Rio or São Paulo, Filho aims to capture the essence of this major metropolis, highlighting its cultural richness and personal significance. Known for his co-direction of the audacious dystopian film “Bacurau,” Filho’s earlier works were set in Recife, often shot in the apartment where he spent his childhood.

The documentary unfolds in three parts, with the first segment delving into Filho’s childhood home. Fond memories of his mother, a progressive political activist who greatly influenced his values, are explored. Clips from Filho’s amateur horror movies, shot in the apartment, offer a glimpse into his creative development.

A heartwarming tale of a neighborhood dog, Nico, becomes intertwined with Filho’s reflections on the apartment. The director muses about hearing Nico’s bark again, only to discover it emanates from the soundtrack of his first feature film, “Neighboring Sounds,” playing on national television.

The film’s title, “Pictures of Ghosts,” references both specific and metaphorical ghosts. A mysterious ectoplasmic figure captured in a photo and a glitching movie theater marquee hint at the spectral theme. In the second part, Filho embarks on a cinematic tour of Recife, exploring its film culture through the lens of now-closed theaters.

Recife’s historical connection to Nazi propaganda and unexpected visits from dirigibles, such as the Hindenburg, add a unique dimension to the narrative.

Through still photos, archive footage, and wordplay with marquee titles, Filho paints a vivid portrait of Recife’s cinematic past. Interviews with a seasoned projectionist, Alexandre Moura, add personal anecdotes, such as screening “The Godfather” for an entire month, challenging the notion of whether one can tire of a cinematic masterpiece. “Pictures of Ghosts” seamlessly weaves together personal and cultural narratives, creating a mesmerizing exploration of Recife’s haunting beauty.

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