In 1992, João Moreira Salles started making a film about Santiago, the butler who had been working for his parents since his childhood. 13 years later, Salles looked back at the unused material on the flamboyant servant, who by that time had passed away. From these images, Salles made a documentary about an extraordinary man who, in addition to his demanding work for the prosperous family, was equally conscientious in dealing with his personal labor: collecting, arranging, interpreting and documenting information about the history of all great and wealthy families in the world.
Santiago, a seemingly obsessive-compulsive character, who typed and compiled over 30,000 pages of the history of the world’s aristocracy and played the maracas to Vivaldi, was meant to be the subject of Salles’ documentary. In 1992, the filmmaker shot nine hours of footage, but aborted the project on the cutting room table.Through Santiago’s detailed memories and erudite contemplations and the director’s voice-over, the film reflects on identity, memory and the nature of documentaries. The old footage – often repeated takes, provided with stage directions, of scenes that were shot in Santiago’s kitchen, or in front of the bookcase where he kept his life’s work, bound together with a special ribbon – is in black and white, which enhances the nostalgic character of the film. During the course of the documentary, Salles gradually finds out why this is his only unfinished film.
(Text by IDFA)