Celebrating Portuguese Cinema in Coimbra

in 29th Caminhos do Cinema Português

by Janet Baris

The festival in Coimbra, which lasted ten days, featured not only film screenings, but also a variety of additional events, such as masterclasses and collaborations with the University of Coimbra and a new exhibition focusing on abandoned movie theaters in the city. The section, Caminhos do Cinema Português, proved to be a powerful celebration of Portuguese cinema, featuring a showcase of diverse films, directors, and cultural interests.

Coimbra is actually a university city, known for its predominantly young student population. Situated between Porto and Lisbon, this city hosts the Caminhos do Cinema Português, an event that has been celebrating Portuguese cinema for 29 years. Each year, it organizes collective screenings of Portuguese films that have been showcased in various parts of the world. The festival hosts a FIPRESCI jury for the first time. The jury followed the Selection Caminhos and watched eleven fiction features and two documentary movies.

The movies in the program addressed criminal issues, the Portugese workers’ situation across Europe, and the daily struggles of women. Most movies had strong female characters.

The FIPRESCI prize went to O Bébado (The Drunk, 2023). In the film, a jobless man, Rogerio, struggles with alcoholism, leading a decent but seemingly hopeless life. One day, in the middle of the night. he sees a girl trying not to be caught by some men. When Rogerio helps her, they form a connection, despite not speaking the same language. After their adventure, Rogerio becomes a hero who saves her life, and bravely keeps her away from the mafia. While the film tries to draw a social portrait of a young man, it also mirrors the way that mafia in Portugal works. The fact that we are neither far nor close to the character causes us to look at its mechanisms from a distance. Although the subject is dark, the director doesn’t dwell on darkness, while being realistic in his approach to cinematography .

The main jury prize went to Cidade Rabat (2023), directed by Susana Nobre. The film follows Helena, a 40-year-old woman who, after her mother’s death, finds time for herself. She works at a film production company, dances boisterously, and occasionally gets drunk. Helena’s portrayal as a woman who doesn’t openly display her emotions, while coping with the loss of her mother, but who manages to navigate her own life, is truly inspiring. Instead of presenting a typical portrait of someone in mourning, the director depicts mourning as an ongoing process, intertwined with the dilemmas of daily life.

Other films provide an insight into Portuguese cinema: Legua (2023), directed by Joao Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis, is particularly impressive. The film, set in rural Portugal, revolves around the solidarity of two women. Ana doesn’t abandon Emilia, who is much older, and with whom she worked as a housekeeper for years. Although Ana’s daughter has returned to university, and her husband has found a job in France, Ana chooses to stay with Emilia, who is aging and in need of care. This solidarity, set against the backdrop of nature, is complemented by powerful cinematography.

The selection also included a feel-good movie: A Bela América (2023) directed by Antoni Ferreria. The film portrays the love of a man surviving on his own with his blind mother, after being kicked out of his home, alongside the story of a famous female politician, America, a candidate for the elections. It’s a film that the audience can enjoy without difficulty. It perhaps does not sound like a feel-good movie but, believe me, it is.

Janet Baris
Edited by Ela Bittencourt