Campo means ‘field’ and comes from the Latin ‘capere’ meaning ‘to capture’. For the Romans, the campo was a place where fruit and animals were kept and, during battle, the arena where “life and death were decided”. CAMPO similarly describes a specific place where life is animated and comes to encompass our place in the universe. Like an empty field, CAMPO’s meditative stillness creates a blank canvas for us to impose our own ideas on the images Tiago Hespanha’s film shows us.
CAMPO is a documentary ostensibly about life in and around the Field Firing Range of Alcochete outside Setúbal, Portugal, the largest military base in Europe. Various vignettes show us expected scenes of soldiers conducting training exercises and unexpected scenes of astronomers reckoning with their place in the universe, a birdwatcher interpreting the cacophony of bird songs around him, and a young musician writing the score for an imagined battle in the stars.
But around these vignettes, the film places images of nature and humanity that speak using a kind of impressionistic and imagistic philosophical method. Hespanha captures images of birth, death, the stars, the sky, the world, and existence in a way that feels like bearing witness to life while a narration of prose poetry moves us from primordial creation to civilisation.
In one scene, a military sniper talks about the extensive statistics that he studiously writes with every shot — type of weapon and scope, type of ammo, altitude, humidity, wind position, sun position, etc. — to measure and quantify what has happened. This annotation of reality contrasts with Hespanha’s approach: he captures reality through images and experiences. Images of the surface of things are reality, not numbers and data. As his narration says, “For the only hidden meaning of things is that they have no hidden meaning […] things are really what they seem to be and there’s nothing to understand. Things are the only hidden meaning of things.”
CAMPO’s succession of images is slow and meditative. It induces the audience into an experience where we apply our own interpretation on the blank canvas of the empty field. From its focus on plants and animals, the film expands to capture the quietness and the waiting involved in life on a military base before expanding further to a cosmic and metaphysical scale showing truths about the place of life in the universe and human subjectivity within grand ontologies while acknowledging that surfaces and objects are all there is to reality. Or perhaps this quiet series of images and poetry would provoke entirely different ideas and radically different truths in someone else. CAMPO is a field that we fill with our own interpretation of life.