When Paulo Branco and his son Juan asked us to write or adapt a story, one of us thought of “The Foundling”, Kleist's concise short story. Our passion for the text was mutual: in the writings of the German author, we found rich material and echoes of cinema.
Our rewriting effort led us to the creation of a family fresco that unfolds over six days in Portugal, in 1554. The central character is Bela, a boy from a poor neighbourhood in Lisbon, adopted by a wealthy Franco-Portuguese couple to replace a child lost in the colonies.
Portugal in the mid-16th century is both at the height of its power and on the verge of decline. Lisbon is a place where wealth from all over the world concentrates. But the great expansion stagnated. The Inquisition became an institution and hence a political force that constrained the life of the kingdom’s subjects. It became a tool for imposing morality, extending its power beyond religious concerns to determine what constituted good and bad conducts. Individual freedoms dwindled, shaping an increasingly narrow world.
Bela's family could, at first, seem inspiring. Maria knows that her husband is homosexual and accepts his relationship with Jacques. Pierre accepts the fact that his second wife loves another man, albeit long dead. The family sells crucifixes doesn’t care about the Catholic religion, which they avoid associating with. Pierre writes poems. Jacques and Maria read. Yet if everything is agreed upon, nothing that really matters is said. The silence of our characters is fertile breeding ground for unfounded beliefs and misunderstandings. Individual feeling becomes clouded. We are not, we do not tell ourselves, we imagine ourselves to be, according to the way others look at ourselves.
Bela has everything to learn here: the habits of a certain social background, another language, a serious profession. Pierre and Maria love Bela for what they see in him. But after all, every child is the promise of a new horizon; Pierre and Maria react in a natural way and we will not condemn them. In the child lies the hope of a life more beautiful than the one we have lived, or less unhappy. We dream that a son or daughter will bring the peace that is so hard to find in our lifetimes; children are ultimately the sweetest receptacles of hope. And we can ask ourselves, a little ashamed but with the good days in mind:
Can our children save us from our ghosts, from our hidden secrets, from the toil that we can no longer bear to carry, from our regrets, from our cowardice in the face of the cruelties of life, from a dying society, from our inability to say "I am"?
But how could our children take on so many roles?
We love stories, we love wandering souls, troubled hearts, we love stormy skies, we love the songs of lost birds in the night, we love the eternity of a beach near the sea, the sweetness of an afternoon in the tall grass, we love bumpy paths; we love Branca who will betray Rosa for love, Rosa who will sacrifice Bela for her freedom, Maria who loves a ghost madly, Pierre who writes poems and recites them in the shelter of the world, Afonso who has lived several lives, Jacques who lives his in a dream and detached from the current reality, and finally Bela, our boy of light who will fall.