"A Doomed Love": A New Take on a Classic Melodrama By Javier Porta Fouz

in 60th Locarno International Film Festival

by Javier Porta Fouz

Cinematographer of many films by João César Monteiro and Manoel de Oliveira, among others, and also an actor, Mário Barroso presented his second feature as a director at the 2008 Locarno film festival. A Doomed Love (Um amor de perdição) is yet another film version of the classic Portuguese novel by Camilo Castelo Branco. One of these versions was directed by de Oliveira himself in 1979. Given these circumstances, it must be said that it was a risky business to deal with the novel and the comparisons with de Oliveira’s film. And seeing the results, it must be said that Barroso’s A Doomed Love is a great success.

Barroso is aware he is dealing with a classic book, and the book appears in the film: the main character is influenced by reading it. Barroso knows there have been other film versions; one of the characters says she has seen one of them. Barroso knows that there have been too many stories about tragic, doomed romance caused by family rivalries: he shows us a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet, where the young actors happily make out beyond the lines. Barroso knows that in this kind of story, there are a lot of clichés to avoid, but he wants to make a melodrama. In other words: How does one make a genre film with intelligence and wit? How can one be modern, and also passionate?

Barroso also knows we’ve seen the stylish cool of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet; the violent, impetuous Simão is shown driving at night with sunglasses, prompting his servant and friend Zé Xavier to ask him why he wears them: Simão tells him he does so because it’s cool. Barroso’s A Doomed Love is always conscious of its filmmaking, always taking a modern approach. But there have been many modern and self-aware adaptations of classics, many of them too cynical and distanced for their own good. One of the greatest achievements of A Doomed Love is that it stays warm and passionate, and tragic and compelling, succeeding as a melodrama without being controlled by the form’s clichés. Indeed, Barroso acknowledges the existence of his clichés and makes them work to the film’s advantage. Only through their wise use can he convey as much as he does, in terms of narrative and characters, in just eighty minutes.

The mechanics of the narrative is simple, revolving around love, and destiny, and stubbornness, and family, and loyalty, and hate. Barroso puts all these to work with poetic intelligence: Consider the cell-phone conversation without cell phones; consider the first flutterings of love between Simão and Teresa, seen only through a screen and a glass, never shown directly; consider the way that the boys and girls (and the mother) are shown, the erotic details combining perfectly with the lush gardens of an enchanting Lisbon shot, by Barroso himself.

Barroso also appears in the film as Teresa’s father, and he doesn’t speak: he is in the shadows, pulling the strings of this strangely bright tragedy. But by no means has the film assumed his character’s point of view. The story is narrated by Rita (played by the splendid teenager Patrícia Franco), and she is the cornerstone of the real love of the film. Maybe this baroque version of A Doomed Love is saying love should always look beyond the horizon, searching out the new and different, refusing to stay within the safe familiarity of the family, or even within the familiarity of class and race.

A final note: The English language title makes a point of adding an “A” to the story’s name. In Portuguese the title is Um amor de perdição, instead of Amor de perdição, as it was in the previous versions and in the novel. This is “a doomed love”, a single one, the one by Barroso, a filmmaker with a vision.