THE PORTUGUESE CINEMATIC MIRACLE

SATURDAY / December 14th / ELVIRA POPESCU CINEMA / 8:00pm


With the support of:                          


CURATORIAL PRESENTATION  by ANDREEA MIHALCEA & ADINA PINTILIE, BIEFF 2013


Contemporary Portuguese cinema is presently undergoing a paradoxical moment. For several years now, Portugal's film industry has been dealing with a serious financial crisis: ICA (the Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual), the main public funding body for Portuguese art house productions, is currently blocked, since the big media companies refuse to pay the taxes which support the cinema fund. In consequence, the national film industry is paralyzed.

 

Despite this situation, the Portuguese cinema of the last couple of years reflects a truly creative boom, standing out through an impressive number of exceptional films, which have been highly successful both in terms of audience and in the international festival circuit, gaining praise and recognition at some of the major film festivals worldwide, such as Cannes, Locarno, Berlinale, Toronto, New York or Rotterdam.

 

In 2013, Miguel Gomes – director of films such as Tabu (winner of FIPRESCI and Alfred Bauer Awards at Berlinale 2012 and ranked #2 in the chart of the best 2012 films by the renowned film magazine Sight & Sound) or Our Beloved Month of August (premiered in Cannes's Quinzaine des Réalisateurs) – was drawing to the attention of the international press that "a paralysis of the Portuguese film sector is a very real threat".

 

BIEFF wishes to offer the remarkable Portuguese cinema the visibility it deserves, expressing, at the same time, its solidarity with and appreciation of the Portuguese filmmakers, who, even though have no national support, miraculously manage to impress viewers from all over the world with outstanding works every year. With the generous support of AGÊNCIA DA CURTA METRAGEM – one of the most dedicated promoters of contemporary Portuguese cinema, together with INDIELISBOA International Independent Film Festival – BIEFF brings this year to Bucharest some of the most intriguing short experimental Portuguese productions and co-productions of the past two years, both within the BIEFF 2013 International Competition and within BIEFF 2013 Special Programs The Portuguese Cinematic Miracle and Quinzaine des Réalisateurs Cannes. Most of them Romanian premieres, these cinematographic gems speak of eroticism, horror, nostalgia or intimacy in tones varying from irony and lyricism to fairy-tale playfulness, through innovative stylistic approaches that engage the viewer in a true dialogue, constantly short-circuiting on the way his/her initial expectations.

 

Bearing the unmistakable signature of the unconventional JOÃO PEDRO RODRIGUES, an established name of Portuguese contemporary art house cinema, THE KING’S BODY, world premiered in Locarno 2013, is an intriguing dialogue between the collective and the individual memory, offering an unexpected and thought-provoking view on history. Under the pretext of a casting, several musclemen are invited in front of the camera, to expose their well-built bodies, to read fragments from chronicles about the first king of Portugal and to talk about history, while in their background footage of the legendary monarch’s statue is projected on a green screen. "Beginning as an investigation into [...] the past, it doesn’t take long for the film to become a portrait of the present, as each of the men describes their lives [...]. The ironic clash between the mythic imagery of the king and these strong yet vulnerable characters is touching, and raises questions about the intersection of history and personal identity." (Adam Cook, CINEMASCOPE)

 

The same charismatic JOÃO PEDRO RODRIGUES also plays the leading-role in AS THE FLAMES ROSE, awarded at Locarno and directed by his close collaborator, JOÃO RUI GUERRA DA MATA. Displaying a similar interest for the exploration of physicality, this conceptually innovative film of great emotional power draws an intriguing parallel between the burning of Lisbon and the ending of a love relationship. Playing with influences from expressionism and melodrama, in a surprising mix of fiction and documentary, the film creates an impressive relationship between the human body and space, through an elaborate mise-en-scene and a remarkable use of chiaroscuro lighting and projected images. This way it succeeds, with just one character, in a single space, to reflect an entire inner world.

 

WILD HAGGIS, winner of the Best Short Film Award at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs Cannes 2013, conveys a playful and refreshing vision of children's imaginative power. A 10-year-old boy faces, with the help of a magical forest creature, the common challenges of a summer camp: games, pranks, winning the heart of the girl he fancies or standing up to bullies. By merging a humorous depiction of the camp’s everyday life and the child’s fantasy realm, JOÃO NICOLAU creates a charming and candid modern fairy-tale.

 

PEDRO BASTOS’ TO THE WOLF OF MADRAGOA plays, in an ironical-postmodernist manner, with irreverent suggestions of erotic relations between a nun and masculine religious figures from the Catholic pantheon, using painterly compositions and editing techniques which echo early cinema.

 

Erotic fantasy is also evoked by YANN GONZALES in LAND OF MY DREAMS, a stylized hypnotic road-movie, following a burlesque strip-tease itinerant show staged by a mother and daughter. Sensual and melancholic à la Lynch, with a flavor of some 70s erotic exploitation movies, the film exhales camp and pop iconography quotes, in a languorous musical rhythm difficult to forget.

 

TÂNIA S. FEREIRA and GONÇALO ROBALO invite the viewer of WITHIN WALLS into the intimacy of a couple through a puzzle of close-ups that capture, through a cinematic magnifying glass, all the small gestures performed by the two during a day. A deeply sensorial experience, this haptic poetic endeavor subtly shifts our perception of our own intimate space.

 

Another film interested in intimacy, as well as in the topic of perception is FRANÇOIS BONENFANT’s debut in filmmaking, the Portuguese / French coproduction WHAT MY LOVE MUST SEE, a powerful and touching visual dialogue between the viewer and a man looking unyieldingly into the camera in three different moments of the day, from one of Lisbon’s romantic rooftops. An elaborate conceptual demarche, in which the man's face, the ever different sunlight and a song are the elements of a living postcard, bearing the imprint of a love story, while at the same time giving the viewer the chance to reflect on the effects the film language syntax can have on the perception of the same image.

 

Also about love speaks the black-and-white horror fairytale THE GRAVEDIGGER, directed by de ANDRÉ GIL MATA, a surprising mix of stop-motion animation and live action, where a beautiful sleeping-beauty falls in love with a monstrous headless gravedigger, with a golden heart. "Echoing classic genre films, like Nosferatu or Tales from the Gimli Hospital, THE GRAVEDIGGER makes the viewer return to a childlike state, tightly clutching his blanket as he anxiously listens to horror stories." (Diana Mereoiu, BIEFF 2013)

 

Another horror film but of a different nature is the Portuguese / Austrian coproduction SIESTA, directed by HUGO FURTADO and DAVID KREMS, a post-apocalyptical vision of the world after an unknown disaster, seen through the camera of the only survivor, in which the mystery and angst come from not knowing the origin of the terror. Based on holiday images in which the tourists are surprisingly missing, the film becomes a disquieting chronicle of the end of the world.  

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PORTUGUESE CINEMA: ONE YEAR AFTER ZERO

introduction by MÁRIO MICAELO (Agência da Curta Metragem, Curtas Vila do Conde Film Festival)


These days, it becomes difficult to speak about Portuguese Cinema without mentioning its socio-cultural context, the disastrous policies of the government that are turning in cycles and coming back to the same point: the impoverishment of the population in favour of the huge profits of a class that dominates the economy, the ineffectiveness of the state institutions, the inconsistencies of the legal framework for public funding and support to culture in particular, the difficulties of the treasury and its continuous lack of liquid funds.

 

Portugal is a small country with about 10 million inhabitants, which, given the decrease of public in cinema theatres, ultimately hampered to achieve a hypothetical film production based on box office results. Nevertheless, it succeeded to maintain a notorious relevance in European Cinema panorama, at least these last two decades. Throughout a laborious scheme of public applications, executed by the ICA (Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual) and overseen by the Secretary of State for Culture, Portuguese film production is not dependent on the government budget, and its funds have been collected by means of a small tax on the profit margins of television advertising.

 

The current government, agreeing with most of the policies imposed by the IMF (International Monetary Fund), has struggled to remain as troika’s best student, complying with drastic funding reductions to the public sector of the economy, including culture. The same government has taken the decision of suppressing the ministry of culture. There’s only a secretary of state who colluded with the austerity policy, lately accepting to administer a thin portion of the government budget for 2014: with a reduction from 0.7% to 0.2%.

 

The same secretary of state did approve the new legal framework for Portuguese Cinema, in study since several years ago and widely discussed with professionals and entities related with, a law that should have already been put into practice but, perhaps because it’s not depending on the government budget (as before), cannot guarantee the stability of film production.

 

At this time, and given this new legal framework that implies not only conventional TV channels, cable TV operators are already owing 11 million Euros since the entry into force of the new law, which is the main reason for today’s impasse and for the uncertain future of all Portuguese filmmakers, producers, actors and technicians.

 

2012 was, according to the optics and the government's decision, the zero year, an attempt to reset the balance of public accounts - in fact to save time and paying off accumulated debts - but 2013 will not be, of course, the acclaimed fresh start under the new legal framework.

 

In this context, of a possible collapse of small and fragile structures of film production, it’s indeed remarkable that Portuguese Cinema continues to emerge on the international circuit of film festivals and under the scope of positive film critic (criticism?), which is actually providing worthy support.

 

In 2012 and further, at least until the end of the year, the success of some feature films (as the case of TABU by Miguel Gomes), documentaries, short films (as the case of RAFA by João Salaviza) and animation films (as KALI THE LITTLE VAMPIRE by Regina Pessoa), produced under the public financing for 2011, gave a new breath and forced the government itself, in a sudden shift of attitude, to claim to be necessary to continue the public funding framework. However, in practice, everything happens in slow motion.

 

At this point, it is worth noting the role of the Agência da Curta Metragem (the Portuguese Short Film Agency) which took, as never before, the Portuguese short films beyond borders, acting according to functional, aesthetic and ethical criteria, and managing to overcome a year of major financial difficulties - also 2012 - without any funding from the ICA. For 2013, thanks to the opening of new public applications, Agência has managed to get the support that ensures now the continuity of its job for one year.

 

Speaking about film production and with no funding through public applications, 2012 was a year of miracles, operated largely by an exceptional financial support that came mainly from Europe. Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture, on the one hand, and the project Estaleiro based in Vila do Conde, on the other, both offset from the main production center - which is obviously Lisbon - and financial support systems managed by the ICA, helped to maintain the production levels of quantity and possibly quality that have used the Portuguese public, European and even worldwide. Also to take into account is the private initiative and personal investment, especially in the case of short films, and also the financial engineered co-productions that will bring to the public some films.

 

In 2013 Portuguese cinema lives in an impasse situation with the constant postponement of funding and a lack of compliance with the legislative framework by various parties. The TV cable operators all mighty can contradict the law by recourse of highly paid lawyers, and the government - in this case the ICA - failing to implement the law and alternative solutions, turns out not to meet deadlines, stalling and repeatedly delaying the opening of public applications and the payment of those who have seen their projects approved.

 

Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture has invested heavily in film production, with a total of 40 films in different frameworks: inviting foreign internationally renowned filmmakers, supporting the career of well-known Portuguese filmmakers, and launching proposals to young filmmakers.

 

The project Estaleiro, with a diversified array of cultural activities –programming, training and producing – developed between 2011 and 2012, also strongly supported film production. The same board and team that organizes Curtas Vila do Conde International Film Festival and promotes short films by the Agência da Curta Metragem, developed the project producing 16 films with greatly reduced budgets but still achieving high quality standards. In addition to this, the same team produced a set of 4 films to celebrate the 20thCurtas Vila do Conde, inviting foreign renowned filmmakers with strong links to the festival.

 

The Portuguese films present in Bucharest witness a strong determination to resist - and this strength is coming out of the work of the directors, producers, actors and technicians – who endure the growth of an image of quality and character that Portuguese Cinema has to maintain.

 

It thus becomes clear why these films come from alternative schemes of production: LAND OF MY DREAMS, by Yann Gonzalez, was one of the films produced for the 20th Curtas Vila do Conde; TO THE WOLF Of MADRAGOA, by Pedro Bastos, and THE KING'S BODY by João Pedro Rodrigues (in competition), are films produced by Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture. Some others are supported under the framework of public funding before 2012, as in the cases of AS THE FLAMES ROSE, by João Rui Guerra da Mata (in competition), WILD HAGGIS, by João Nicolau (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs), and THE GRAVEDIGGER, by André Gil Mata.

 

It is crucial that an European network of film professionals (and thus the public attending to festivals, other film events and special screenings) becomes aware of the strongly qualified work that some filmmakers and producers have been developing in Portugal and the dangerously serious situation in which they find themselves. Hence, this knowledge is linked to the essential role of film festivals, which may consist in the promotion of the quality and diversity of Cinema.

 

MÁRIO MICAELO, Vila do Conde, November 12th, 2013

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LAND OF MY DREAMS (20', Portugal, 2012)

Director: YANN GONZALEZ

World premiered in Locarno 2012, LAND OF MY DREAMS is a hypnotic and stylized road-movie, which evokes strange sexual fantasies and impossible love. While searching for the land of her dreams, Bianca – a beautiful girl recalling the Hitchcockian blondes from Brian De Palma’s films (one of GONZALEZ’s favorite directors) – meets again with her mother in Porto, after a long time, and they set up a small itinerant burlesque striptease show. A visual melopoeia with camp influences and pop iconography references, in which GONZALEZ sets a haunting and sensuous freak-show à la Lynch. With a retro tint to it and exuding in artifice, the film’s languorous rhythm is given by Anna Domino’s recurring eponymous 80s song, alternating eroticism with horror. (Andreea Mihalcea, BIEFF 2013)



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SIESTA (15', Portugal / Austria, 2012)

Director: DAVID KREMS & HUGO FURTADO

With the support of:

“It must be about one week since it happened...” – A deserted beach in the morning, empty alleyways in the midday heat, panoramas of a grid of streets where no movement can be perceived from the distance. SIESTA evokes associations with the current boom in horror films made with supposedly found footage: what looks like the normal downtime in the rhythm of a Southern European coastal city’s day - the siesta - is drawn out to a catastrophic length in the film: something has happened, and Barcelona’s now empty and the painted beach clock has stopped. A local resident looks for other survivors and new supplies. She films her forays, and the voiceover reads entries from her diary. (Joachim Schätz)



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THE GRAVEDIGGER (14', Portugal, 2013)

Director: ANDRÉ GIL MATA

Combining stop-motion animation with live action, THE GRAVEDIGGER is a horror fairytale of gothic and expressionistic influences, about a man with a monstrous face and a golden heart. The film brings together a group of bizarre characters - a dwarf who involuntarily cuts the heads of those he meets, a sleeping-beauty who falls in love with the headless gravedigger - into a tale with a lurid happy ending. Echoing classic genre films, like Nosferatu or Tales from the Gimli Hospital, and with a voice-over reminiscent of Vincent Price, THE GRAVEDIGGER makes the viewer return to a childlike state, tightly clutching his blanket as he anxiously listens to horror stories. (Diana Mereoiu, BIEFF 2013)



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TO THE WOLF OF MADRAGOA (9', Portugal, 2012)

Director: PEDRO BASTOS

Within the cultural project Guimaraes European Capital of Culture, PEDRO BASTOS turns to one of the city's (in)famous citizens, António Lobo de Carvalho - an 18th century poet and satirist known for his irreverent sexually explicit writings that went against the Christian morale as dictated by the catholic church - in order to create an audacious  35 mm video installation made from tableaux frames that come to life, with painterly effects, reminiscing the beginnings of cinema. A postmodernist non-narrative piece of filmmaking, TO THE WOLF OF MADRAGOA playfully alludes to a sexual relationship between a nun and various saints, while ironically questioning the catholic hypocrisy in regard to eroticism and sexual behaviour. (Oana Ghera, BIEFF 2013)



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WHAT MY LOVE MUST SEE (11', Portugal / France, 2013)

Director: FRANÇOIS BONENFANT

The hyperminimalist and sensual WHAT MY LOVE MUST SEE seduces the viewer by subtly modyfing his perception of the same image: a living postcard, that contains the aural fingerprint of a love story and, at the same time, a poetical equation about cinema, with essential elements of the cinematic language as variables. FRANÇOIS BONENFANT proposes a powerful and touching visual dialogue between the viewer and a man looking unyieldingly into the camera in three different moments of the day, from one of Lisbon’s romantic rooftops. While the sunlight travels over the man’s face towards the sunset and the Portuguese love song, heard first in the distance from a radio, comes closer and closer, hummed by the man's warm voice and finally embracing us as unique soundscape, nostalgia and longing subtly sneak under our skin, until fully possessing our hearts and bodies. (Oana Ghera & Adina Pintilie, BIEFF 2013)



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WITHIN WALLS (26', Portugal, 2013)

Director: TÂNIA S. FERREIRA & GONÇALO ROBALO

A hyperrealist cinematic portraiture of a couple's intimacy, WITHIN WALLS uses the space – the apartment the two faceless characters live in – as a canvas, projecting onto it the small traces of existence, which eventually define their identities. Stylistically radical in its exclusive use of only one type of framing, the close-up, WITHIN WALLS swings between a sensuous poetics of space and a clinical investigation of it. Through almost haptic images, a dialog is established between the couple on-screen and the viewer, introducing the latter into the enclosed existence of the two within the apartment’s walls. (Oana Ghera, BIEFF 2013)