Bílis negra (Black Bile), Directed by Nuno Sá Pessoa
Bílis negra (Black Bile) illuminates the absurdity of human folly in the modern imagination, creating comedy in the most unlikely of places. A cross-dressing coroner finds himself interrupted while performing his morning routine of examining cadavers in a morgue when two masked men who identify themselves as medical students lay claim to the body on the examination table. Their bizarre interaction creates the ideal space for black comedy to make light of everything modern.
The scene is the dark, cavernous, mysterious basement morgue, where we find the unnamed coroner (João Craveiro) preparing his uniform, which includes mascara and lipstick. ‘This is our world’, he says to himself. ‘One of these days, I’ll kill myself, or I’ll get someone who’ll do it for me’. The tall candles surrounding him in the darkness create a medieval aura of the occult. One by one he blows them out, and there is only darkness. ‘What was the banality of your murder’, he asks a cadaver. ‘A watch? A mobile phone?… I wonder what killed you’.
The most stunning moments of the film are those that deftly switch from the serious to the comedic, from dark to bizarre. The coroner is interrupted from his strange ritualistic interaction with a cadaver by two masked men (Tobias Monteiro and Paulo Duarte Ribeiro) who demand to take the body. They have broken into the locked building, which in the early morning hours is deserted except for the coroner. It soon becomes clear that the trespassing duo want the body ‘for an exhibition by a famous designer who wants to exhibit his latest collection on corpses’. The second young man corrects the first on his terminology: ‘Cadavers’. ‘Huh?’ ‘Cadavers’.
‘How terrible’, responds the coroner, who follows with an impromptu invitation.
May I offer you a cup of tea?
The music (composed by Miguel Sá Pessoa) is marvelous in these moments of comedic drama, emphasizing the stunning juxtaposition of the politesse of tea time within the most unattractive of venues. The music is nimble and simple – a surreal electronica that mirrors perfectly the fantastical twists in plot. Juxtaposing the surreal is the intense orchestral heaviness and physicality of Verdi’s Macbeth, which at times parallels the emotional heaviness of certain moments, and at others creates the same aura of absurdity as the fantastical, but from the opposite perspective: the grandiosity of Verdi sometimes serves to accentuate the film’s latent absurdity.
The coroner is thoroughly obsessed with death, and the morgue is the perfect place for these obsessions to emerge. After one of the young men asks for a sweetener for his tea (there is none), the coroner inquires politely…
Would you two… kill me?
He is also consumed with that most modern of obsessions: fame. The opportunity to partake in the cadaver exhibition becomes the subject of well-written dialogue that reveals the absurdity of the topic. ‘Why do you want to die?’ asks one of the intruders. ‘It’s a matter of choice’, responds the coroner. ‘Arbitrariness! Ever heard of it?’
The theme of death extends also to the subject of the inescapable organicism and physicality of the living. The coroner informs the young men of ‘bodily secretions – we the living also have them: sweat, sperm, yellow bile… black bile!’
These discussions are interesting for the ways in which they manage to address their heavy subjects while also maintaining an eerie lightness and absurdity. Director Nuno Sá Pessoa formulates images with the camera that engage the characters and their surroundings in dynamic motion in a manner that is choreographed and cinematically effective, if not entirely organic. That, too, is intentional: the film’s absurdity, its fantastical qualities, and its obsessions extend even into the cinematography itself. The film weaves the absurd with modern realities of obsession, fame, and death. The result is oddly pleasurable. ■
Runtime: 18 minutes
Genres: Black Comedy, Short
Find out more
More information about Bílis Negra can be found in the Internet Movie Database and Facebook. More information about this film’s director, Nuno Sá Pessoa, can also be found in the Internet Movie Database, as well as his website. Nuno Sá Pessoa is an accomplished Portuguese director, editor, producer, writer, cinematographer, actor, and independent filmmaker. His recent films include Terra 2084 (Earth 2084), A Lagoa (The Pond), and The Headless Nun – among many others.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: A scene from ‘Bílis negra’. Bílis negra.
This film is the 2015 recipient of the Atlas Award for Best Special and Visual Effects.