Besides the great honour and pleasure to have an exhibition of some of my films at the Viennale, particularly being its 50th edition, the possibility of a carte blanche to program a few Portuguese films is indeed very meaningful, exciting and stimulating to me. When Hans Hurch first invited me I immediately accepted, since it would be a wonderful opportunity for some films to be seen and made known to more people, moreover in an event as prestigious and open as the Viennale. However, I was immediately aware of the difficulties and eventual injustice of such a task. Even though Portuguese filmography is not so vast in its entire history, from all Portuguese films I could only pick five. And after some doubts and hesitations, I eventually decided for the selection that can be seen here at the Viennale.
The criteria I adopted in choosing this carte blanche is not so much about the best or most important Portuguese films, nor does it comprise a more historicist approach to Portuguese cinema. It's about those I consider to have really impacted and affected me before I myself have directed my first movie. In any sense, I believe these can be considered among the best and most important movies in the history of Portuguese film. Also, it intends to honour and celebrate their directors, people I have had the privilege of meeting and getting on with: some of whom I was a student of, others with whom I have worked with on their movies, people who gave me opportunities and have helped me in some way at some point, who have always taught me something else. In sum, people who have allowed me to grow in an environment of friendship with all of them.
These five films report to only three decades in the Portuguese cinema history: the 60's, 70's and 80's of the Twentieth Century. These coincide with the decades of my childhood, adolescence and entry into adulthood, the years of my education and the beginning of my professional life in film - as assistant director, script supervisor and above all, editor - before I have become director. All have shown me the qualities I value most in cinema and in any film, such as freedom, independence, audacity, boldness, perseverance, obstinacy and, above all, faith and love for filmmaking.
So, I chose “Os verdes anos” by Paulo Rocha, “Belarmino” by Fernando Lopes, “Trás-os-Montes” by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, “O bobo” by José Álvaro de Morais, and “Recordações da casa amarela” by João César Monteiro.
Fernando Lopes, P 1964
“Belarmino” was the first film that I have seen from the movies in this carte blanche, because my uncle was friends with the cinematographer, Augusto Cabrita, and the musician, Jorge Manuel Veloso. I was about twelve years old. What affected and surprised me the most was seeing places that I knew quite well: my neighbourhood (Mouraria), downtown Lisbon (the heart of the city), the old stadium of Sporting Clube de Portugal (my football club), the Mouraria Sports club or even the café where Belarmino restores pictures. And, what's more, I knew the hero/anti-hero of the movie himself, Belarmino Fragoso. This was a true revelation, perceiving reality in film and understanding that film was not something merely like a dream, a dream world of places and people, distant and utopian. After all, film also assumed what’s real and palpable.
Over the years I came about to see “Belarmino” many times and it never failed to be up to date. I always find something new about it, and it always passes me a feeling of freshness and great freedom without ever becoming evocative or nostalgic. I find absolutely fabulous the dialogue between what is real and what is staged; the intermingling between the dramatic - and even tragic - with what is comical and almost burlesque. The editing, the use of songs and sounds, the cinematography and so many framings really strike me, and so does Belarmino himself, pathetic and moving, as well as the lugubrious and melancholic depiction of Lisbon, similar to Portugal and the Portuguese. “Belarmino Fragoso could have been a great champion…”
Cinema was nearby, very close to my house and to myself.
If I am a film director today, I owe it to the huge champion of life and of filmmaking, my friend Fernando Lopes, through the inspiration of this and other movies.
José Álvaro de Morais, P 1987
To me, possibly along with “Ninguém duas vezes” by Jorge Silva Melo, “O bobo” is the most lucid depiction of the failure and discouragement of the ideals and hopes brought about in Portugal with the Revolution of April 1974, which were then falling apart for a certain decadent aristocratic bourgeoisie, intellectuals and leftists who still struggled to believe and fight for such ideals in an almost utopian manner.
In this first fiction feature film by José Álvaro de Morais, two narrative lines unwinding in parallel are eloquently combined, one complementing the other and merging up at all times. On the one hand, we are in Lisbon, 1978, in the aftermath of the Revolution. We are faced with the daily lives of the characters, a police investigation, political intrigues, romantic plots, jeopardized friendships, and the last rehearsal days of a theatrical adaptation of a nineteenth-century novel (“O bobo”, by Alexandre Herculano). On the other hand, this theatrical adaptation brings us back to the past, to the foundation of the nationality, where we too stumble on the afore-mentioned political intrigues, romantic plots and jeopardized friendships. Everything is articulated and brought together by an epic and operatic strand where past and present mingle.
Resorting to an assumed theatricality evoking a certain cabaret atmosphere (thus returning to a practice fallen into disuse during the 60’s, the use of a film studio and constructed sets) and to a taste for the profusion of characters (spread across a range of actors both veteran and newcomers, in whom we can sense an utter complicity and availability towards the movie), José Álvaro de Morais depicts a political, social and emotional portrait of a disillusioned and lost generation. A portrait of Portugal, in a film behind the scenes: behind the scenes of theatre, cinema and history.
Begun in 1979, “O bobo” had an extremely troubled production, with several halted periods of shooting due to financial problems, and a very tough and titanic editing and post-production. Eventually it was completed in 1987 and had the first screening at the Locarno Film Festival, winning the Golden Leopard. Nonetheless, it only timidly premiered in the beginning of 1991. José Álvaro de Morais, who had directed a few short and medium length films and documentaries, had another project for a feature film cancelled, “A corte do norte”. Only in 2000 did he show new work, “Peixe-Lua”. Three years later, he directed his third and last feature, “Quaresma”. He died shortly after, when his work began to have some visibility and recognition. With all the hardships and setbacks, José Álvaro de Morais was always affable and inconspicuous, persistent and scrupulous. He was a true gentleman. The greatest romantic in Portuguese Cinema.
RECORDAÇÕES DA CASA AMARELA (Recollections of the Yellow House)
João César Monteiro, P 1989
João César Monteiro has created one of the most unique and personal worlds in Portuguese film and culture, as a result of a very particular creative process consisting of daring combinations and options, often as unpredictable and striking as contradictory on the whole, yet only seemingly provocative. He took the symbiosis between author and oeuvre further, not only because he physically incorporates his own work but also because it reflects elements of his own living experience, personal concerns and of his own private world as well. Such dichotomy and its intensity is one of the most exciting aspects of his oeuvre, which also comprises an immense tenderness and fragility coupled with an enormous sense of rigour and integrity. It reveals itself through an impressive intellectual and formal erudition of literary, pictorial or even musical references, co-existing with a thorough knowledge of popular tales, legends, and traditional sayings, which go right down from the most vulgar and raw in a journey that reaches both the sublime and the verge of obscenity and abjection. Nevertheless, it is impossible to remain indifferent to such a combination.
I could have picked other films by João César Monteiro. Films I love so much, such as “Veredas” and “Silvestre”, or “Vai e vem”, his last movie, which caused me to hesitate in this decision. I picked “Recordações da casa amarela”, a film I consider as a key movie, whereupon João César fully assumes himself as actor-character. Up until then, he had had many supporting roles in films by other filmmakers, and also in some of his own. Namely, “Quem espera por sapatos de defunto more descalço”, João César’s first movie, in which he was the voiceover of Luis Miguel Cintra’s character, Lívio - a character he resurfaced 20 years later in “Recordações da casa amarela” with the very same actor - and thus creating a line in which author, actor and characters melt together in the personage gallery of his subsequent work: João de Deus, Max Monteiro, João o Obscuro, João Raposão do Audiovisual, João Vuvu, Deus e João César Monteiro.
But “Recordações da casa amarela” is also a film about Lisbon, shown in a unique and single way in its greatness and miseries, as raw and dirty as tender and stunning, as obscene and narrow as kind and admirable, as wicked and malicious as magnificent and sublime. Just like João César Monteiro himself.
António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, P 1976
Of the five chosen films for the carte blanche, “Trás-os-Montes” is the only one not centered in Lisbon. It is centered in the Northeast of Portugal, in one of the poorest and most isolated provinces of continental Portugal, Trás-os Montes - which gives title to the film. The movie is the evocation of this region, of its historical and secular roots, of the land and landscape, of rocks, of faces and gestures, of daily life and subsistence agriculture, of the disappearing arts and crafts, of the communities and the people, of children, of women and mothers, of old people, of games and child’s play, traditions and customs, rituals, legends and myths, of erosion, time and distance, of the departing people who leave their presence as absent, of memory, of the culture of a people. All is summoned in the film, which breaks the boundaries between fiction and documentary and between narrative and poetics, in prodigious leaps of time and space, yet creating an exquisite unity and cohesion that makes of “Trás-os-Montes” a very particular and unique object not only in Portuguese film, but in universal cinema as well.
Following the Revolution of April 1974, at a time when the winds blew almost one-way and nearly everything was confined to political actions and partisan demonstrations (militancy and urgency were on the order of the day), Margarida Cordeiro and António Reis solitarily engaged in a very personal path of freedom and independence, of rigour and dignity, of love and truth. Later on, I sought to learn that from António at the film school, where he left his indelible mark as a teacher and a master on many who have had the privilege of his lectures, companionship and friendship. Afterwards I met Margarida, and I ended up being fortunate enough to work with them in the editing of “Rosa de areia”, which sadly was their last film.
António has passed away. I still worked with Margarida on the next project they both wanted to direct. In spite of Margarida’s efforts and persistence, it never came to fruition, owing to the great deal of hypocrisy, pettiness and sexism in this country and its film milieu. The most beautiful scene of Portuguese Cinema will always stay with me: the little girl waving goodbye to his father, in his long farewell. Until another day, dear Margarida and António.
OS VERDES ANOS (The Green Years)
Paulo Rocha, P 1963
Breaking with the doldrums and the gloom in which Portuguese film production had fallen in the 1960’s, “Os verdes anos” was the first film of the so-called Portuguese New Cinema - a proposal by a new generation of filmmakers trained in film schools abroad, working in film societies or in film criticism. This new generation, despite its intrinsic diversity in approaches and in quality, imposed an idea of artistic and creative freedom that became the hallmark of Portuguese film until today.
In spite of its frailties, some naivety and even certain imperfections, “Os verdes anos” brought a sense of freshness and innocence, a delicacy and a decency to a country “that slowly kills us all”, marked by a “fading and vile sadness”. The symbolism of the settings whereupon the plot evolves merged with an affection for the characters (magnificent Isabel Ruth) and with simple, yet always meaningful dialogues, making this film a singularly sincere and honest one. The beautiful and magnificent music by Carlos Paredes is also a vital contribution, despite its occasionally excessive presence.
The film sways between the trivial and the unusual, from the quietness and the violence, strong and weak tempos, from between what is shown and what is concealed. It is about vertigo and tremor, about the duality between city and the countryside. A city that grows in its modernity, pushing the countryside away and imposing a claustrophobic world of frustration and fatalism on the characters, all of them of rural origin. Yet Paulo Rocha manages to avoid or overcome excess, without resorting to romanticism or to a melodramatic approach, and with a precise sense of time and space. It was with the somewhat secretive, mysterious and poetic contribution of “Os verdes anos” that almost everything started in Portuguese film.
I was Paulo Rocha’s pupil at the film school, where we met 30 years ago. Since then, we have had a relationship of respect and friendship, sometimes also of a professional nature. I would highlight the editing of “Máscara de Aço contra Abismo Azul”, a particularly gratifying experience in which I felt perhaps the greatest responsibility and freedom of all of the montages I’ve worked in. I do not know if it was by some mysterious design, but it was thanks to Paulo - who believed in the project, eventually becoming its producer - that I managed to finish “Xavier”. For this reason, but also because of Paulo himself and because of what was begun with “Os verdes anos”, I greatly admire and regard Mr. Rocha-San.