The Empty Pageantry of Savanna and the Mountain

Savanna and the Mountain

In the verdant lushness of Northern Portugal, where ancient stone villages lie in deep green valleys and you can feel the moisture popping off the screen, and where the agricultural way of life seems the same as it probably did over fifty years ago, epic and violent change is afoot. The land of Covas do Barroso is being encroached upon by the development of a nearby lithium mine by the multinational Savannah Resources. 

It’s the dirty secret — and paradox — of the electric vehicle revolution. For cars to become more eco-friendly, the natural world must be excavated, stripped apart and broken down. So the people of the town stage a series of increasingly bizarre protests in Paulo Carneiro’s hybrid doc Savanna and the Mountain (2024) — a great idea for a short film perhaps, but rather enervating at feature length. 

“Don’t wait for others to do it for you/you don’t win the war by sitting down” goes the ballad at the centre of this revolutionary film, sung repeatedly as a cry for resistance. But as any political filmmaker can tell you, the best way to convert an audience to your cause is through maintaining a consistent and engaging rhythm. 

By torturously splitting the difference between slice-of-life observation — i.e. opening with a five-minute shot of a man corralling his horse or boys endlessly riding their motorbikes around town — and empty pageantry, with lots of grandstanding, staring at the camera and collective singing, this film, while visually stunning, with its deep focus shots, gorgeous natural beauty and various dogs, horses and sheep, lacks any reason for us to care about the plight of the villagers or be invested in their mock Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) resistance. Less a mountain, more a series of trivial molehills.