Portuguese director José Fonseca e Costa dies at 82
by Vitor Pinto
- Pneumonia has taken one of the most distinctive Portuguese directors from us; he had been shooting his new film, Axilas
Portuguese director José Fonseca e Costa died of pneumonia yesterday morning in Lisbon. Thus we have lost one of the most distinctive filmmakers in Portuguese cinema, and an iconic figure from the “Novo Cinema” movement. At the age of 82, he had recently got back behind the camera to shoot what is now to be remembered as his swan song, Axilas.
Fonseca e Costa was born in Angola in 1933 and moved to Lisbon in 1945. He studied Law but soon dropped out of University to work in film. Initially things were not easy for the aspiring director, who was arrested by the International and State Defense Police and prevented from working at public broadcast RTP and from receiving a scholarship to study film in the UK.
In 1961, he worked as an intern on Michelangelo Antonioni’s Eclipse. Moving back to Portugal after three years in Italy, he began to shoot documentaries and worked in advertising. His feature debut, The Message, was released in 1971.
During the political turbulence of the 1970s, Fonseca e Costa directed several films, including the collective work The Guns and the People (1975, portraying the days of the Carnation Revolution) and The Ghosts of Alcacer-Kibir (1976). The late 1970s and early 1980s brought him substantial critical and commercial success with films such as Quilas, the Bad of the Picture (1980), No Trace of Sin (1982) and Balada da Praia dos Cães (1985).
Less prolific in the last 20 years – but often outspokenly critical of Portugal’s film financing system – Fonseca e Costa directed, among others, Five Days, Five Nights (1995), O Fascínio (2003) and Viúva Rica, Solteira Não Fica (2006). In 2014, he was seen in Rui Simões’ documentary Alto Bairro and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Portuguese Cinema. During his speech, he accused national film body ICA of being a “kingdom of bureaucracy”, underlining that “bureaucracy kills creativeness, but creativeness should be killing bureaucracy instead”.
This year, Fonseca e Costa embarked on a Paulo Branco production named Axilas [+see also:
film profile]. The majority of the film, an adaptation of a short story by Brazilian author Ruben da Fonseca, has been shot, and it is expected to wrap despite the director’s death.