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Review: Lupo


- Pedro Lino’s documentary follows the nomadic life of one of the most iconic figures of silent film in Portugal, the filmmaker Rino Lupo

Review: Lupo

Restless minds make restless lives. And restless lives provide good material for good films. Such is the case for Rino Lupo, the Italian entrepreneur and director at the heart of Pedro Lino’s new documentary, Lupo. The only Portuguese title selected in competition at FEST - New Directors New Films, the film is the latest example of a Portuguese work looking to the past to celebrate the present.

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Born in a bourgeois Roman family, Lupo travelled all over Europe and worked in several film studios before settling down in Portugal in the early 1920’s. Hugely driven and full of ideas, he embarked upon several silent film projects, producing and directing a number of these, including Mulheres da Beira, Os Lobos, O Desconhecido and, later, Zé do Telhado. Some were highly praised by critics, others received mixed reviews, but almost all of them had two things in common: they sold out theatres but cost double their initial budget. The end-result was no great surprise: production companies went bankrupt, as did another film supported by another investor. Lupo, meanwhile, went on making waves on the 1920’s art scene of Porto and Lisbon.

Openly fascinated by Lupo’s larger than life character, Lino follows the entrepreneur’s journey in detail, addressing direct, rhetorical questions to Lupo himself on the surprising choices he made and the nomadic life he led. In his documentation of the past, the director draws on old press articles and letters, as well as interviews with Lupo’s grandchildren and archive images from Manoel de Oliveira, who was cast in one of Lupo’s films in the very early stages of his acting career.

What is fascinating about this film, however, over and above its reconstruction of the past, is Lino’s determination to link the past with the present, and he does this in a variety of ways, by rebuilding images of old theatres in various cities, for example, by shooting in venues which technically no longer exist (or which have been turned into evangelical temples!) and, primarily, by incorporating a text by Lupo himself into the narrative of the documentary, a text which is still worryingly relevant today: “Portuguese film production has delivered some enthusiastic “flashes” of brilliance but, unfortunately, it is yet to organise itself properly, to build on its resources and to train valuable assets. Up to this point, everything has been as if a draft, an initial attempt showing strong willing, but producing only isolated hits.” Nearly 100 years later, Lupo’s words still resonate loudly and could easily be confused with a modern-day observation on the state of film production in Portugal. He continues: “How can the Government protect the industry? The best outcome would be to have no legislation on this at all, otherwise the more presumptuous among us would believe they have the right to be protected, and such protection would only lead to terrible films. The failure of these films would be a tremendous blow both for the industry itself and for financial backers. The only body that is truly capable of protecting cinema is the audience – they offer by far the best possible form of protection.”

With the advent of sound, Lupo’s career took another unexpected turn, and in the early 1930s, he found himself in Paris with his wife and daughter before their separation led him to return to his native Rome, and later to transfer to Berlin where he worked for legendary film company, UFA. Then, with the cruel passing of time, Lupo disappeared from the public eye. He was relegated to small roles as an actor and eventually died of pneumonia in Italy in 1936.

Produced by Ukbar Filmes, Lupo’s release comes roughly one year after that of Luísa Sequeira’s Who Is Bárbara Virgínia [+see also:
film review
film profile
and João Monteiro’s Nos Interstícios da Realidade, movies which also depict the lives of significant yet oft-forgotten personalities in the History of Portuguese cinema. These are films which are at once celebratory and nostalgic, tracing personal downfalls which are, in fact, far more tragic and affecting than any of the individual success stories now relegated to Historical obscurity. But through this documentary, Lupo’s role in the early years of Portuguese film has been rescued from oblivion. It is ultimately a testimony of his passion, and passion, as we are reminded by Lino, was all that mattered for the ancient Greeks who, instead of writing an obituary, would ask just one question about the deceased: Did he/she have passion?

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