Maybe it is worth investigating the unknown if only because
the very feeling of not knowing is a painful one.
Just before the last dark of dawn, somewhere down by the Lisbon
docks, a lone, slightly tipsy figure leaves the Arcadia bar, a
silhouette following its shadow through a stone courtyard, around
a corner, down a narrow street into an old building. As he climbs
a spiral staircase two shots come from above and he falls,
sprawling across the bottom steps. A crime has been committed,
a mystery begins.
On The Edge Of The Horizon is a multi-national production; French
screenwriters adapting Italian Antonio Tabucchi's novella, with a
French lead actor, a Portuguese director, and the subtle beautiful
musique originale of Polish composer Zbignew Priesner.
The night shift pathologist Spino (Claude Brassuer) unzips the
body bag and freezes at the sight of the corpse's face, (a view
withheld by director Fernando Lopes). There's keys, wallet with money,
but no identification, impulsively Spino pockets a polaroid
(of a beautiful nude woman) he finds on the victim.
As his friend, day shift Inspector Alvaro leaves the examination
Spino asks, "Where are you going to start on this?" Alvaro tells
him, "Police routine is based on the assumption that everyting
has happened and will happen again. Sooner or later you get
where you're going."
For police purposes they are already 3 for 5, they've got where,
when, & how death occured, all that's left to find is who? (both
victim & killer) and why? which for judicial purposes isnt essential.
But the corpse's face has spurred Spino into what will become a
detective story, the kind of investigation that delves into reality, truth,
self and identity.
At home, a restless Spino examines a black & white photo of his
Father, Mother, and his younger self. He removes it from the frame
and unfolds it, revealing a young woman in the background, walking
towards them, head down, his Sister.
"When you play chess with yourself, it's always your move."
He paces his apartment, idly moves a chess piece, the black knight,
picks up a white piece, when he's suddenly struck by what's been
puzzling him. He rushes back, shows his family photo to Alvaro, they
compare it to the corpse's face. "Yes there may be something there."
Agrees Alvaro, "Who is it?" "It's me!" says Spino, "30 years ago!"
Alvaro stomps away growling, "Go to bed!"
Spino checks his phone messges and a female voice says, "It's me,
see you later." He goes to sleep and is awakened by sounds in his
apartment which prove to be his girlfriend, Francesca, (Alvaro's sister)
who denys making the earlier call. They squabble over breakfast.
"You're afraid of dying!" "So why do I work night's at the Morgue?"
"You're trying to tame death."
"He runs after facts like a beginner learning to skate, who practices
somewhere it is forbidden."
Spino compares his Sister's image with that of the Woman on the
polaroid. Missing his Mother's wedding ring on his keys he finds the
victim's key ring contains such a ring. At the Arcadia bar making
inquiries about the victim he meets the Bar Girl (the Woman in the
polaroid he stole) who i-d's the young man in his family photo, and
tells him, "He had to go, but he will be back."
Spino has a colleague blow up a detail from the polaroid. He follows
this clue to a church next to a cliff overlooking the sea. The priest
remembers the young man who visited recently and showed him
a photograph of an older man. A Brother? Father? Spino stands
at cliff edge and the sight of the horizon fills him with vertigo.
A worried Francesca pulls him away from the edge.
Francesca's a college professor discussing the Portugese poet Pessuas
(who she thinks is full of ennui) with a student but she's really talking
about Spino. Though Spino seems to be acting on another aspect of
Pessuas's work than the Tedio (Tedium) that Francesca is concerned with.
"Sudade" ...a vague and constant desire for something that does not and
cannot exist, for something "other" than the present, a turning toward the
past or toward the future."
- A.F. Bell
Spino cuts the label from the dead man's coat and sets out to find the tailor
who made him such a coat at least five years before the victim wouldve
even been born. The retired tailor agrees to search his records and call him
Francesca has had Alvaro check into Spino's past and they find
his parents were killed in an accident, his sister (who was also
named Francesca) lingered in a coma for three days, Spino by
her side, before dying. Spino has never forgiven himself for
Spino meets the Bar Girl crusing the night streets. "My name's ..."
she starts to introduce herself, "Francesca." he names her. She
takes him back to the room she uses for her "dates", strips down,
turns around, ... and the moment of the photograph repeats before
his eyes, with the faint sound of a polaroid being taken.
The old tailor has died during the night and the package he's
left for Spino has been taken away with the body. Spino checks
with Alvaro but the police don't have it. A concerned Alvaro
tells him, "The past is like the horizon, we can't get there.
The closer we move, the further it becomes. "
Spino decides to take the corpses fingerprints and compare them
to his own. He leave's them with the police Print Expert, who's too
busy to do them immediatly, but asks, "Are you alright? You look
like you've come out of one of your drawers. " Spino snaps back,
"692, is that the one!?" The Print Expert puzzles over this, then
goes and opens drawer 692. Here again, Director Lopes positions
the man in front of the drawer, preventing a view of the corpse,
and what can be seen on each side looks, empty.
A frantic Francesca lets herself into Spino's apartment. The phone
rings and the left messeges play back, including a brief one from
Bar Girl, "It's me, the one you're looking for, he's here!" Francesca
picks up the phone and implores Spino, "No! don't go!"
In a beautifully done doom montage Lopes intercuts a frustrated
Francesca sweeping the chess pieces off the table, the cue ball lined
up and knocking balls into pockets, while Spino laid back in a barber's
chair, his lower face covered by a white towel, through half closed
lids eyeing himself in the mirror, where he looks very much like
a corpse on a gurney. The cable car runs its set course, the wires above,
the track below, down to the dock area.
Spino makes one last call and a weeping Francesca begs him to come back,
but he no longer has any words for her. He returns to the Arcadia bar, prowls
the tables. The Bar Girl spots him and directs him to the exit. "He was just
there!" Spino glimpses a male shadow moving away and bounds down after
him. The Bar Girl turns away from the exit and stares into the screen, breaking
the fourth wall, an enigmatic expression on her face.
In a high angle down the opening repeats, though with Spino in the forground,
a male figure moving away, down the street to the old building. Spino follows
him inside, just as Alvaro & his officers arrive with sirens & lights at the bar.
Two shots ring out and Spino is dead on the stairs, just instants before the cops
Back at the police station, as he heads for the preliminary autopsy, Alvaro notices
the time 6:12, exactly the same time as the first victim. The Print Expert reports
on the comparision he ran for Spino. They match.
Like most metaphysical investigations more questions are raised than answered.
The film provides enough background on psychological explanations for Spino's
obsessional interest but this can't account for what happens. Events & people
& times are oddly doubled, through out past and future circumstances seem to
conspire against the present.
The film goes black before the credits and Spino has the last words, his
answering machine messege. "It's me, leave a messege, ... The Rest Is Silence. "