Fri, Jun 26, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Age of cinematic discovery

Pedro Costa, Joao Pedro Rodrigues and Joao Rui Guerra da Mata will speak at this year’s Taipei Film Festival, which spotlights Portuguese cinema

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Antonio Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, Tras-os-Montes.

Photo courtesy of Taipei Film Festival

Portugal is known for inaugurating the European Age of Discovery and, more recently, Europe’s recession and debt crisis. The country’s cinema, however, has remained largely unknown.

Movie lovers can get a taste of the Portuguese movie scene at this year’s Taipei Film Festival (台北電影節), which highlights the country’s cinematic achievements with an ambitious lineup of 55 feature and short films spanning the silent era to the digital age.

Kuo Ming-jung (郭敏容), the festival’s program director, thought that she would be dazzled by a plethora of choices, judging by the popularity of the country’s productions on the international film festival circuit.


Surprisingly, Kuo says, the reality is quite the opposite, as the economic crisis has taken a toll on the Portuguese film industry, with the number of local productions falling precipitously since 2011.

“[Portugal] must have very rich cinematic traditions to continue to create such brilliant cinematic works under these difficult circumstances,” Kuo says.

She’s right.

The tradition begins with Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015), whose 88-year career spans most of Portuguese film history. The festival will include four of his works, including Labor on the Douro River (1931), a documentary about the life of poor dockworkers on the Douro River. Oliveira’s Italian neo-realist-influenced Aniki-Bobo (1942) follows the adventures of a gang of street kids growing up in the slums of Porto, the country’s second-largest city. It includes natural performances from non-professional actors and location shooting.


For today’s Portuguese filmmakers, the most influential figure is undoubtedly Antonio Reis (1927-1991). A poet before entering filmmaking as the assistant director for Oliveira’s ethnographic Rite of Spring (1963), Reis is known for an extraordinary body of work, much of which was co-directed with his psychologist wife, Margarida Cordeiro.

Their collaborations have often been described as lyrical explorations of Portugal’s people, blurring the line between fiction and documentary, past and present and veering into a more literary sphere filled with myth and folklore.

Commonly regarded as the finest of the duo’s unique cinematic style and sensibility, Tras-os-Montes (1976), for example, is a magical evocation of the land and inhabitants in Portugal’s remote northern province of Tras-os-Montes.

Reis’ importance also lies in his career as a long-time professor at Lisbon Theatre and Film School from 1977 to 1991, where he influenced and inspired a new generation of filmmakers — who have been collectively dubbed the School of Reis.

Part of the festival’s program is dedicated to the this group. Among them, Joao Cesar Monteiro’s award-winning Recollections of the Yellow House (1989) pays tribute to Reis’ cinema through a morbid comedy following the misadventures of a grizzled, wretched bachelor played by the director. Our Beloved Month of August (2008) by Miguel Gomes recalls the poetic form of Site of Spring, blending drama, documentary interviews and music to tell a story of a film crew shooting a movie in Portugal’s rural heartland.

The festival also pays tribute to the Cinema Novo (New Cinema) movement in the 60s, which is aesthetically similar to to French New Wave. Paulo Rocha, a key figure of the movement, made Change of Life (1966), which tells the melancholy tale of a man who returns home to his fishing village after fighting a war in Angola. Written by Reis, who met Rocha through Oliveira, the film tackles, albeit indirectly, the war fought between Portugal and its African colonies striving for independence, a taboo subject under the Salazar regime.

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