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Country Focus: Portugal

Portugal: auteur cinema seeks serious relationship with local audiences

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Portugal: auteur cinema seeks serious relationship with local audiences

- Crista Alfaiate and Américo Silva in Miguel Gomes's three-part drama film Arabian Nights

(This article has been published in the Cannes 2016 Market News daily by Le Film Français)

Regarded abroad as the homeland of established auteurs such as Pedro Costa, João Pedro Rodrigues and Miguel Gomes, Portugal remains a country struggling to impose the vision of its largely praised filmmakers to broader local audiences. International awards and enthusiastic reviews for Portuguese productions tend to have little impact at the local box office, which is unsurprisingly dominated by US titles and occasionally – as it happened in 2015 – by a huge local hit. Frequently, these domestic hits tend to be comedies designed for the local market and therefore remain virtually unknown at the international scale.

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2015 will be remembered as the year in which Gomes invaded the screens with Arabian Nights [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Miguel Gomes
film profile
]
, his semi-surreal semi-documentary portrait of the country during the austerity years. Inevitably, it will also be recalled as the year in which director Leonel Vieira broke all the records with The Courtyard of the Ballads [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(O
Pátio das Cantigas). This remake of a 1942 Portuguese classic left the critics appalled, but it would shortly become the most successful domestic film ever: over 606,500 admissions; grossing €3,098,052. In comparison, the three Arabian Nights’ segments all together attracted nearly 35,000 moviegoers and grossed around €162,000.

Whether you embrace or not Gomes’ challenging and chaotic style; whether you buy or loathe Vieira’s explicitly commercial approach, the truth is that the gap between the two films perfectly depicts the two sides of an industry dealing with its own inner contradictions – the classic dichotomy art-house/commercial projects; an industry struggling to transform the international recognition of its films into domestic hits. Nevertheless, established directors and producers – and a whole new talented generation of professionals in particular –, continue to work for a place in the limelight, most of them backed by universities and by ICA, the national film body, which in 2015 supported the production of 52 new titles (25 more than in 2014).

Fast-forward to 2016. The most seen local film is, once again, a comedy. Vicente Alves do Ó’s O Amor é Lindo… Porque Sim! started as a project with the students of a Lisbon-based drama school and grew to be seen by almost 31,000 people, grossing nearly €148,000. All the other local titles released this year so – including Patricia Sequeira’s debut Game of Checkers [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(
Jogo de Damas), Portuguese-Spanish coproduction Gelo [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
by father-and-son Luís and Gonçalo Galvão Teles and João Nicolau’s John From [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
remained under the 7,000 entries.

Fruitful new filmmakers
At the same time, Portuguese films continue to find their way in the festivals’ circuit. Eight titles were selected to the 66th Berlinale, among them Ivo M. Ferreira’s black and white drama Letters from War [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
Q&A: Ivo M Ferreira
film profile
]
(
Cartas da Guerra). Highly anticipated, this O Som e a Fúria production is based on the letters Portuguese writer Lobo Antunes wrote to his wife during the Colonial War. It will be interesting to see how the audience will respond to it. Local festival IndieLisboa organised a Special Screening last month but the film hasn’t yet received theatrical distribution.

Besides short films have been for years a sparkling territory to explore ideas and shape emerging talents.

Otherwise, at the latest Berlinale, 23-year-old Leonor Teles became the youngest director to receive the Golden Bear for Best Short film. Winning title Balada do Batráquio is a film aiming to denounce the racism against the Gipsy community. Teles is the second Portuguese director to conquer the coveted Bear. João Salaviza got it in 2012 with Rafa. Salaviza – whose feature debut Mountain [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: João Salaviza
film profile
]
(
Montanha) also opened locally in 2015 –, is currently shooting a documentary with the indigenous people from the state of Tocantis, in Brazil.

And lastly, two Portuguese shorts are at the Cannes’ International Critics Week this year: Cristèle Alves Meira’s Campo de Víboras and Pedro Peralta’s Ascensão.

Produced by Portugal’s Ukbar Filmes and France’s Fluxus Films, Campo de Víboras is set against the popular parties of Vimioso (a village in the northeast of Portugal) and captures the desire of a woman to live a different life. The film stars Ana Padrão and Simão Cayatte, who is also a director with several shorts in his resumé – the latest one, Menina, was part of the local competition of the latest IndieLisboa.

As for Peralta’s Ascensão, it is a poetic and wonderfully photographed project depicting the rescue of a man from a pit. He will soon find himself in his mother’s arms in a pietà evocative position, before what seems to be a resurrection or an unexpectedly beautiful metaphor for surviving (and escaping) oppressing love and social shame. Ascensão was produced by Terretreme Films, a Lisbon-based outfit that produced, Cannes 2015 entry Provas, Exorcismos by Susana Nobre.

The Portuguese presence in Cannes this year can be also seen in Albert Serra’s Last Days of Louis XIV [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Albert Serra
film profile
]
(
La Mort de Louis XIV), coproduced by Rosa Filmes, starring Portuguese actor Filipe Duarte.

According to the president of national film body ICA Filomena Serras Pereira, these films and emerging talents “demonstrate that we are picking up the fruits of our investment effort in new filmmakers. This is also the result of the diversification of our supporting programmes, in which we try to offer financing schemes that are suitable for innovative ways of production, like collaborative projects, for instance.”

New tax incentives to come
Indeed, almost all those titles have been backed by ICA, which spreads its support throughout seven strands (and several sub-strands): new talents and first works; film support; audiovisual and multimedia support; internationalisation support; support for festivals and alternative circuits, and two schemes particularly targeting co-productions with Brazil and France.

Besides, the Parliament is currently preparing a new tax incentive scheme, applicable to domestic or foreign productions investing a minimum of €500,000 in local spend in Portugal. This forthcoming scheme was so far, according to Serras Pereira, “the missing pillar in our development policy for film and audiovisual. Once it enters into force, it will reinforce our competitive potential, aiming to attracting productions for our territory. It will allow us to emphasise the many positive aspects that characterise Portugal as shooting location: its great variety of natural sets, short distances, excellent roads, qualified workers – a lot of them internationally trained, renowned for their know-how and versatility –, competitive costs, security and nice work environments. Therefore, 2016 is presenting itself as a year of many developments and great challenges!”

Coming soon…
Several titles by Portuguese directors are ready or almost ready to hit the screens and the international showcasese until the end of the year. Here is a short, yet electic, selection of some of them:

The Ornithologist [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: João Pedro Rodrigues
film profile
]
(O Ornitólogo)
. Enfant terrible João Pedro Rodrigues reinterprets the myth of Saint Anthony in this BlackMaria production starring French actor Paul Hamy.

São Jorge will bring together actors Nuno Lopes and Beatriz Batarda with director Marco Martins. The trio has previously worked together in Cannes entry Alice [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Marco Martins
interview: Nuno Lopes
film profile
]
(2005). Filmes do Tejo produces.

Directors Teresa Villaverde and Beatriz Batarda join their talents again in Colo, a Portuguese-Italian co-production depicting the effects unemployment has on a family in modern-day Portugal.

Manoel de Oliveira passed away last year, but his legacy can still be felt. João Botelho’s Cinema, Manoel de Oliveira and Me [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
is a beautiful tribute to the Porto-born filmmaker which includes an unexpected silent film within the film – a prostitution story, about which Oliveira used to tell those closest to him that he would perhaps shoot one day.

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