New Portuguese Films: From Documentary to Poetry

in 51st IndieLisboa - International Independent Film Festival

by Luis Salvado

IndieLisboa is increasingly becoming one the most important celebrations of the truly independent cinema worldwide. Now in its fifth edition, it’s already an unmistakable reference. Portuguese cinema plays an important role at IndieLisboa. This year, five feature-length films were screened to a Portuguese audience for the first time, one of them, Uprise (A Zona), in the official selection (which gathers first and second directorial efforts in each category) and the other four in “Observatorio” (a section that features more experienced filmmakers).              

Uprise was probably the most eagerly awaited Portuguese film of the festival. Its director, Sandro Aguilar, is the most celebrated moviemaker of the so-called ‘shorts generation’, a group of young filmmakers who sprung up in the late 1990’s with very experimental short subjects that left no one indifferent. Loved and hated in equal measure, this group gathered in the collective production company “O Som e a Furia” (The Sound and the Fury) and has already started to grow to feature film stature, Miguel Gomes being one of the prime examples with The Face You Deserve (A Cara que Mereces), awarded in IndieLisboa ’04, and the recent Beloved August (Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto), which will be in the Directors Fortnight at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.              

As usual with the films of this group, Uprise divided opinions with its mix of stunning but apparently disconnected imagery, very far away from the classical narrative structure of beginning, middle and end in chronological and understandable order. A film of longing for lost objects, feelings and sensations, it proved too much of an effort for some of the audience, without the necessary pay-off. Certainly an acquired taste, Uprise is in tune with Aguilar’s shorts, which are fascinating for some, and incomprehensible for most.            However, one of the reasons for the existence of IndieLisboa is precisely to allow these kinds of films to be exhibited and discussed. Sleepwalking Land (Terra Sonâmbula) was one of the best liked films, proving to be unbeatable with the public of the festival from day one, as it was always on the top of the polls of audience preferences. Directed by Teresa Prata as her feature film debut, it’s an adaptation of a book by Mia Couto set in Mozambique in the early 1990s. In the aftermath of the Civil War, an old man and a boy travel the country and stop at an old bus with a dead man and a diary, whose history will have something to do with the one of the child himself. A sensitive, honest and touching film, it already won a good deal of awards, including the FIPRESCI Award at the Kerala film festival.              

But the film which won the award of the Best Portuguese Film of the Festival was much less talked about during the event, although no less powerful: Access Road (Via de Acesso), directed by Nathalie Mansoux, is a documentary about the destruction of illegal barracks in the social district of Azinhaga dos Besouros, with a critical view of the Portuguese government’s deficient policies regarding the relocation and reintegration of its inhabitants.            

Endgame (O Lar), directed by António Borges Correia, was also a documentary, this time about the lives of a group of people in a retirement home. Contrary to what everyone expected, the films has its moments of fun, with the audience laughing hard at some of the most curious expressions and reflections of its protagonists. That said, it is also a painful study on solitude in the last years of human life.            

Finally, a third documentary came from a most experienced filmmaker and theatre professional, Jorge Silva Melo, that reflects on his relationship with the artist Álvaro Lapa, an important Portuguese painter and writer. Álvaro Lapa (Álvaro Lapa: A Literatura) also remembers other times, before Portugal was a democratic country, when the work of that artist represented a sort of freedom for the ones liking ambitious and intelligent young literates like Silva Melo.              

In these five very different films, IndieLisboa’s audiences discovered five very different views on the world, and if its messages weren’t always the most uplifting, the audacity of their directors can hardly be questioned.