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This weekend the Ciné Lumière shines a light on a country whose films rarely make it our screens. We take a sneak peek

Think of Portuguese cinema and two names spring to mind: 50 year-old Pedro Costa, who enjoyed a retrospective at Tate Modern this month, and 101-year-old Manoel de Oliveira, whose recent films of his near 80-year career include 2006’s ‘Belle Toujours’ and this year’s ‘Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl’. But this weekend the Ciné Lumière in South Kensington will look further and screen four British premieres by three other torchbearers of the little-seen Portuguese cinema.

Leading the pack is critic-turned-filmmaker Miguel Gomes, a popular local auteur whose 2008 work Our Beloved Month of August was described by Nuno Sena, the co-director of Portugal’s IndieLisboa film festival, as ‘the most important Portuguese film since Pedro Costa’s “Blood” in 1989’. Thoroughly deserving of superlatives, this sun-dappled jewel offers an earthy rumination on storytelling which takes in the passions of Portuguese country people and, most notably, their liking for MOR folk music. Recalling the elegiac docu-fictions of Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke as well as the cool-headed formal experimentation of Jacques Rivette, the opening hour of the film adopts a fairly orthodox documentary structure to familiarise us with this rich lifestyle before it mutates into a tender drama about the ructions within one band.

Gomes’s 2004 film, ‘The Face You Deserve’, also incorporates bold stylistic transitions in its story of a teacher who while helping with a school production of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ contracts the measles and dreams that he has seven men running errands for him while he rests in a country house. While less assured than ‘Our Beloved Month…’, it still acts as a showcase for Gomes’s love of storytelling modes, whether cinema, literature, memories or song.

Manuel Mozos’s reflective essay, ‘Ruins’, again stalks out the places where legends are born. Still shots of abandoned buildings dotted across the Portuguese landscape are coupled with anecdotes and reminiscences to give us a lyrical insight into the chequered history of the area.

Finally, there’s the chance to catch Edgar Pêra’s wonderful ‘Perpetual Movements: A Cine-Tribute to Carlos Paredes’, a Super-8 homage to the virtuoso 12-string guitarist who died in 2004. Split into 17 short ‘movements’, the film is as interested in constructing a striking accompaniment to Paredes’s soulful playing as it is in looking back over his life and work. If there’s a theme that links the four films in this season, it’s the genesis of art and ideas: where does art come from? Which aspects draw us in, and which repel us?

Certainly, the work screened this weekend could be included in what a recent Sight & Sound editorial described as a ‘post-Tarkovskian poetic cinema’ that supposedly stands impervious to criticism. Yet outside of Portugal these films have only been seen by a small fringe of cinephiles. So do try and make it to these rare screenings, not only to experience a cinema that has been notably absent from British arthouses, but to make up your own mind as to whether they deserve to be released from the festival ghetto.

The Portuguese Film Season runs from Oct 31 to Nov 2 at the Ciné Lumière.

Book tickets here

Author: David Jenkins



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