Não Sou Nada – The Nothingness Club: a lurid vision of Fernando Pessoa’s inner lives

This atmospheric imagining of the many personalities that populated the mindscape of the renowned Portuguese poet is a woozy, unruly enigma.

Victoria Guerra as Ofélia in Não Sou Nada – The Nothingness Club (2023)
  • Reviewed from the 2023 International Film Festival Rotterdam

Fernando Pessoa was a giant of Portuguese literature and is considered by many to be one of the most important poets of the twentieth century. Arguably, Pessoa was not just one poet, but several: within his body of work were pieces composed by personae – which he referred to as ‘heteronyms’ – named Albert Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos. These were not just pseudonyms to Pessoa, but fully fledged individuals who could congregate in his mind, shared friendships and rivalries, and influenced one another. If this sounds fantastical, then Edgar Pêra’s luminous, noirish adaptation of this psychological scenario, Não Sou Nada – The Nothingness Club, ventures unapologetically into lurid and intoxicating absurdity.

The ‘Nothingness Club’ of the title is a wood-panelled office filled with a clattering of typewriters manned by similarly dressed individuals who range from having a slight to a very close resemblance to their boss, Pessoa (Miguel Borges). Among these men sit Caeiro (Miguel Nunes), Reis (Vitor Correia) and de Campos (Albano Jerónimo), along with many others such as Pessoa’s ardent astrologer, Baldaya (Miguel Moreira). They all exist in a hermetic world in which the only opportunity for relaxation is an adjoining smoke-filled bar into which the emotions of the office frequently spill. There seems to be no sphere beyond the Nothingness Club, and while the film intercuts the interactions of Pessoa’s heteronyms with sequences apparently set in a psychiatric institution, it is improbable that this is intended to represent a concurrent reality, more likely a deeper level of Pessoa’s own recriminating mind. When he was 20, Pessoa surmised that fear of insanity is itself insanity.

Into this deeply atmospheric but fragile equilibrium, which is accompanied constantly by a moody piano score, steps Ofélia (Victoria Guerra). She spans the different landscapes of Pessoa’s mind – she is at once the femme fatale whose presence will prove destabilising in the Nothingness Club and the attentive new nurse in the institution. As Pessoa tries to assert his authority in the club, events begin to spiral out of his control and heteronyms start to turn up dead. As an ever more violent and deranged Álvaro de Campos causes havoc, the film lurches further into delirium. Pêra steeps the imagery in double-exposures and fragmentary overlays, relishing the overwhelming visuals and the pounding drama of the piano as a Grand Guignol climax looms into view.

There are hints at a real-world trajectory within the film – towards the end, Pessoa types the last phrase he ever wrote before his death from alcohol poisoning in 1935 – but Pêra’s film opens by describing itself as a ‘cinenigma’, and attempts to seek a reliable path through this wild dreamscape are ill-advised. As Pessoa himself warns: “Follow me with caution.”