In BAD LIVING, Portuguese Oscar entry directed by João Canijo in a family-run hotel, by the Portuguese northern shore, lives a group of women from different generations of the same family, whose relationships with each other have grown poisoned by bitterness. They try to survive in the declining hotel, as the unexpected arrival of a granddaughter to this oppressive space stirs trouble, reviving latent hatred and piled-up resentments.
Cinema Without Borders: What motivated you to make BAD LIVING?
João Canijo: Mostly the need to expose something about my deeper concerns. I had to stop wandering around themes disguising my real subjects and go straight to the point. That meant exposing the long time obsession with the Oedipus complex.
CWB: Considering Portugal’s culture of family, how challenging was finding your main characters and writing your screenplay?
JC: I think Portugal culture of family it’s only another form of universal culture of family. Motherhood condition remains mostly the same around the world, so it was just a question of digging out memories. Mine and the actresses. Blending those memories took us to screenplay writing.
CWB: How did you work with your actors?
JC: It’s a collaboration process manipulated by me. We start from scratch discussing characters and plot until we reach a common ground. From there we discuss and kind of rehearse a scene structure of the screenplay until we reach a consistent draft. Then we improvise scene by scene getting the screenplay final draft with satisfying dialogs.
CWB: How did you develop the visual style of your film?
JC: We, my DOP Leonor Teles and me, looked for a way of showing a gloomy mood always having in mind an anxious perspective. We searched a way of conveying anxiety.
CWB: Please discuss some of the themes of the film.
JC: The main, and I hope the only, theme of the film would be anxiety. How anxiety can prevent living and loving, how anxiety can prevent even the will of living.
Director – João Canijo
For the last two decades, João Canijo has been a vital reference in contemporary Portuguese film. In nine features and two documentaries, his films reveal the subliminal forces which act upon and shape the contemporary Portuguese collective imagination. Over this period of time, he has investigated the most sordid and turbulent transformations in Portuguese society and the historic and social contradictions caused by those transformations. Tracing a map of a diverse and marginal country, these films attest to how families are the troubled setting of sociological change, where violence looms as an instrument of power and conflict.
From the industrial town of Sines in Sapatos Pretos/Black Shoes – as well as a Portuguese community in France (Ganhar a Vida/Get a Life), a rural whorehouse (Noite Escura/In the Darkness of the Night), a north-western village (Mal Nascida/ Misbegotten) – to a public housing neighbourhood on the periphery of Lisbon (Sangue do Meu Sangue/ Blood of My Blood), these films discuss the periphery as a place where economic and sociological changes coexist with traditions of patriarchal violence.
Throughout his work, João Canijo has also been on the search for everyday reality, fine-tuning a method with his actors, so as to provoke a contamination with reality. This method also affirms his place in contemporary film, with a directorial style which explores the performance of the scenes, making it so the camera is an attentive observer of that reality. That is also why these films attempt a confusion between fiction and documentary, which is the authorial mark of his work.
A culmination of his oeuvre, Mal Viver/Viver Mal/Bad Living/Living Bad (2023) is a diptych that puts all of these dimensions into play, focusing on a hotel and the pulverization of the unity of space and time, transformed into two films with complementary angles: the story of the family running the hotel (Mal Viver) and the stories of the guests who temporarily occupy it (Viver Mal). If the first film was built from the director’s experience and from his work with its actors, the second one is an adaptation of three plays by August Strindberg: Playing With Fire, The Pelican and Motherly Love.