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Peregrinação: Embracing ambiguity

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- Portuguese director João Botelho adds another literary adaptation to his CV, depicting the trips of 16th-century author Fernão Mendes Pinto

Peregrinação: Embracing ambiguity

João Botelho’s new feature, Peregrinação, is reaching Portuguese screens this week, adding a further adaptation of a literary work to the director’s filmography, three years after The Maias – Story of a Portuguese Family [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
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, based on Eça de Queirós’ novel, which became an unexpected indie hit at the local box office. Now, Botelho turns to 16th-century author Fernão Mendes Pinto, whose only book, Peregrinação, was published in the 17th century, about 30 years after his death.

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A tale of adventures focused on the trips of Portuguese sailors heading east (to India, China, Japan and so on), Peregrinação has always been a controversial work, accused of historical inaccuracy and initially slammed by the Catholic Church. Botelho is well aware of the book’s ambiguous identity and decides to embrace it, thus creating an equally ambiguous and artificial film object in three chapters, which combines literary storytelling, imagined family stories, theatre-driven performances and musical sequences.

Peregrinação was filmed in two phases. In the summer of 2016, Botelho shot on location without the cast, capturing images from India, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Japan. In the spring of 2017, already in Portugal, he worked with the actors in places such as Lisbon, Tomar and Comporta beach. Chroma key was used to make everything seem real, but in the images by DoP Luís Branquinho, dark artificiality is the prevailing aesthetic element – although in a less explicit way than in Botelho’s previous film The Maias, where the sets were mostly paintings.

Claúdio da Silva, who previously played the lead in Botelho’s 2010 movie Disquiet, steps into the shoes of Mendes Pinto during his voyages as well as later on, after he has returned and is writing his book, eager for recognition. Other cast members include Brazilian actor Cassiano Carneiro (Who Killed Pixote?), Catarina Wallenstein and Pedro Inês, among others. The performances are deliberately delivered in a non-realistic register – vaguely reminiscent of Manoel de Oliveira’s style – with lines plucked directly, unchanged, from the original manuscript, and unexpectedly wrapped up in a musical atmosphere.

Indeed, the most astonishing – and perhaps exciting – aspect of the whole film is the fact that Botelho not only adapts a book, but also seven tunes from an album, Por Este Rio Acima (1982) by Portuguese songwriter Fausto, which was already inspired by Mendes Pinto’s writings. Botelho introduces the songs without their instrumental accompaniment, inviting the supporting actors who play the sailors to sing a capella, in a sort of Greek chorus.

Peregrinação is an Ar de Filmes production being distributed in 29 venues across the country, courtesy of major distributor Nos Lusomundo Audiovisuais. It is also another local production in search of an audience during a year that has seen very disappointing box-office results for Portuguese cinema – no local movie has exceeded 45,600 admissions so far.

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