Rodrigues’ first feature is a masterfully gripping and almost dialogue-free portrayal of an adolescent garbage collector in Lisbon whose insatiable libido leads him further and further off the well worn path of his everyday life. The title may refer, obliquely, to the young man’s nocturnal existence or to the puzzling figure he strikes to the flirtatious woman whose advances he willfully scorns. Prowling the night city in search of fleeting sexual encounters with other men, the trashman undergoes a strange metamorphosis, increasingly drawn toward an animal existence, running, stalking and crawling along the edge of the city and the frame of Rodrigues’ meticulously choreographed film. Phantom’s elliptical, episodic narrative is anchored in the riveting and fiercely physical performance of nonprofessional actor Ricardo Meneses as the young man haunted by a ghost of his own making.
An important early expression of his skill at depicting character through choreographed movement and visual storytelling, Rodrigues’ short tells the story of an architect awakened by his girlfriend’s telephone call on his thirtieth birthday only to find he has a hangover and another man in his bed. Selected by the Venice Film Festival, this delightful passage through the unexpected half-hour of the two men’s lives marks the beginnings of Rodrigues’ international film career and his collaboration with Guerra da Mata, who plays the bemused architect.