The Ornithologist (2017)

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues
Country: Portugal / other

The films of the Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues are usually cleverly mounted to pique curiosity, even if the accessibility of the challenging narratives is sometimes limited. I found “To Die Like a Man” a worthy experience, regardless of its flaws, and was even more impressed with the mournful “The Last Time I Saw Macao”.

His new drama, “The Ornithologist”, raises the level of abstraction when compared to the previous tales, but still comprehends homosexual connotations, crime, and mystery. What is different here is a pronounced surrealism where the contemplation of nature mixes with religious symbolism and folklore elements to form a puzzling peregrination toward a spectacular Christian conversion.

The crisp images are deliberately protracted to make us absorb every single detail in the devious path of Fernando (Paul Hamy), an ornithologist who is rescued by two female Chinese pilgrims after his kayak has been dragged by the force of the river. The two disoriented women, Lin (Chan Suan) and Fei (Han Wen), were doing the religious route of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, but got lost, ending up in Portugal, close to the border between the two countries.

The Chinese pilgrims affirm to be haunted by Tangu – the spirit of the forest – and start acting strangely while asking for Fernando’s protection and guidance to return to the right trail. I couldn’t have been more surprised when Fernando, a positive agnostic, awakens tied to a tree, deprived of his priceless freedom. Under a cursing spell, the women talk about castrating him on the next morning, but he was lucky enough to escape before dawn.

With no map and no ID, and carrying a useless cell phone, Fernando embarks on a series of bizarre experiences that includes being followed by a white pigeon, witness an ominous folkloric ritual, and having odd encounters with a young deaf-mute shepherd named Jesus (Xelo Cagiao), with whom he involves himself sexually, and three mythical Latin huntresses on horse.

Along the way, we learn that Fernando’s mental health depends on some pills whose bottle got out of his sight. Is this a bad dream or demonic reality? The impertinent presence of an owl annunciates further oddities.

Amidst heavy symbolism, punctilious allegory, and religious metaphors, the mystic tale loses a bit of direction somewhere in the middle, before Fernando rebirths as Anthony (director’s cameo) and return evangelized to the civilization, hand-in-hand with Jesus’ twin brother, Thomas.

With an approach that borrows a few stylistic constituents from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, this is all about belief and self-discovery. 
The adventure can be as much tortuous as the paths of faith itself and yet sin and repentance are not taken seriously here. Some viewers will find “The Ornithologist” pretentious and philosophically boring while some others will see it as an avant-garde cult film of haunting expression. It will all depend on your openness and state of mind. 

Horse Money (2014)

Horse Money (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pedro Costa
Country: Portugal

Movie Review: “Horse Money” is the new drama from the celebrated Portuguese filmmaker, Pedro Costa, author of the remarkable trilogy based in Fontainhas, an impoverished neighborhood in Lisbon, which includes “Ossos”, “In Vanda’s Room”, and “Colossal Youth”. This time the subject is a bit different, but Mr. Costa retrieves Ventura from his last film. This man, played by himself, is a confused Cape Verdean immigrant, a retired bricklayer, who was admitted in a Lisbon’s hospital where he keeps escaping through the gloomy back passageways, losing track of the space and the time, and being haunted by ghostly presences of his past. To complement the disquieting phantasmagoric images, we’re granted part of the disorder that goes on Ventura’s head. These particular sequences are arranged with a persistent exactitude, and yet some elements seem not to fit quite well, making us even more intrigued and sometimes lost in the darkness of his alienation. Suffering from a nervous condition, Ventura is stuck in time – he says he’s 19 and believes the date is March 11, 1975, time of a failed military coup led by General Spínola. This occurrence apparently destroyed the company where Ventura was working. In one of his visits to what remains of this company, Ventura finds his nephew, who seems a ghost waiting for the money that was never paid after a three-month absence due to an epileptic seizure. He often bumps into Vitalina Varela, an anguished widow, who blames Ventura for the death of her husband. Another visitor is a man who stabbed him and whose restless soul also wanders throughout the hospital. The most memorable scene is when Ventura is tormented by voices inside the hospital’s elevator, in the presence of a living statue of a revolutionary soldier. Costa brilliantly plays with past and present, truth and hallucination, desires and nightmares, songs and silences, politics and misery, life, death… My head is still spinning in a sort of a watchful dazzle, and I cannot forget the sad, vague, and embittered expressions of these lost souls…or ghosts.

The Right Juice (2014)

The Right Juice (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kristjan Knigge
Country: Portugal

Movie Review: “The Right Juice” is an English-language comedy made in Portugal by Dutch director Kristjan Knigge who now makes his debut on feature film. The story follows Oliver Fellows (Mark Killeen) a British citizen who moves to a modest house in his new land in Perna Seca, Algarve (south of Portugal), with the ambition to grow oranges and do business. However this task won’t be easy since Andreas, a greedy entrepreneur who wants to force Andreas to sell his land, canalizes all the water to his place. He also drags his wing to Oliver’s estranged wife who stays in the city hotel after arriving from London. Everything will take a good way with the help of neighbor Manel (Miguel Damião), a mechanic and medronho-drinker, and Nesta (Lucia Moniz), a dolphin trainer who will be the key to know more about Andrea’s evil plans. With a simple and sympathetic plot, “The Right Juice” has the heart in the right place but its jokes will probably tell much more to the Portuguese audiences than abroad. The score is also very Portuguese resorting to fado many times, while its obvious conclusions and imperfections restrict a better development for the story. If you’re looking for a feel-good trifle, full of beautiful dreams and innocent moralities, you can take a chance on this summertime comedy that is well intentioned but not particularly stirring. After struggling with financing, the film reached a deal with NOS, the biggest Portuguese media broadcaster in order to be locally distributed.

Os Maias (2014)

Os Maias (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: João Botelho
Country: Portugal / Brazil

Movie Review: João Botelho’s modern and sympathetic adaptation of the Portuguese naturalist novel from 1888, “The Maias: Episodes of Romantic Life” by Eça de Queirós, shows some poetic humor but moves away from the artistic freedom exhibited in “Disquiet”, which celebrates the controversial poet Fernando Pessoa. The casting was one of the good aspects of the film, together with the curious option of manipulating settings to illustrate outdoor landscapes and surroundings. These settings even gave some exquisite, picturesque taste to the well-composed photography by João Ribeiro, but “Os Maias” evinces some issues that are difficult to ignore. The biggest of them is that the passion of the aristocrat Carlos da Maia for Maria Eduarda (the fulcral point of the plot) was less impressive than the friendship with his libertine friend João da Ega, the character that keeps us watching the film with interest. The crucial romance never attained high temperatures to make us sweat, remaining stuck in the formalism of the scenes and polished dialogues that almost ruined everything, especially in its first part. Moving forward in an uneven manner, the story turns out to be watchable due to the effort of the actors and some inspired visual ‘reconstitutions’. Botelho’s best film so far is minimally competent, but leaves the sensation that it could have been shortened, less focused in trivial details of the period, and more concentrated in extracting the emotions needed from the plot. The film was shot in 50 days with a budget of 1,3 million Euros, and clearly missed the opportunity of becoming a more fulfilling reference in the Portuguese cinema scene.

É o Amor (2013)

É O Amor (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: João Canijo
Country: Portugal

Movie Review: João Canijo’s new feature film focuses once again on very specific characters of the traditional Portugal. It comes after “Blood Of My Blood”, a tremendous success in Portugal and abroad, and consists in a sort of experimental documentary. The idea was to send the actress Anabela Moreira to live for several months with Sonia Nunes, a fisherman’s wife who has been working all her life in the fish trade in Caxinas, a Northern fishing town. The approach highlights the contrasts in the way that both women see and deal with love and life in general. While Sonia describes her past experiences, boasts about her child and solid relationship, and denotes a confident personality, Anabela seems more and more depressed after realize her incapability for love in the same way as Sonia, which led to identity issues to the point of calling into question her own professional career. Despite the curiosity that arouses, “É o Amor” was unable to convey stable levels of interest till the end, and the reason has to do with the repetition of its ideas. Canijo throws us long and repetitive close-ups of Anabela confessing her emotional state and admitting some kind of envy, invariable shots of women singing corny music inside a car, and detailed aspects about the everyday work and family life in Caxinas. In my eyes, not all the scenes were essential for this strange comparison between two worlds that nothing have to do with each other, and a good editing would have been fundamental to achieve better results.

The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012)

The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: João Pedro Rodrigues / Guerra da Mata
Country: Portugal / France / Macao

Movie Review: After “To Die Like A Man”, João Pedro Rodrigues continues his incursions into the world of Portuguese travestis, this time with the help of João Rui Guerra da Mata on direction, who also plays the main character. With a completely different approach, the plot was built in mystery, following Guerra da Mata’s return to Macao to meet with an old friend named Candy, a travesti who wrote to him asking for help and saying that strange and scary things were happening there. He also takes the opportunity to reminisce his childhood, since he lived in that former Portuguese colony for several years. Presented as an enigmatic espionage thriller in which we are not allowed to see the participants’ faces, the film arouses apprehension as the trip dives into obscurity. Among failed meetings, death premonitions, threats to leave the country, and mystical components associated to the local mafia operations, there are also considerations about the multicultural Macao, described in words and images that seemed to want to guide us throughout the city. The way it was done impelled me to want to see more in order to find more about the story. It remained in my memory after watching it, as a compulsive exercise on experimentalism, set up with an exquisite storytelling and ghostly images. Awarded at Locarno with the jury’s special mention, “The Last Time I Saw Macao” stands as a very personal work presented in the form of fake-documentary, becoming highly recommended for fans of alternative cinema.

Gebo And The Shadow (2012)

Gebo And The Shadow (2012)
Directed by: Manoel de Oliveira
Country: Portugal / France

Review: “Gebo and The Shadow”, directed by centenary Manoel de Oliveira, is another tale about money, based on a 19th Century play by Raul Brandão. The iconic Portuguese filmmaker addresses this subject for the second time in the last four years, after “Eccentricities of A Blonde Haired Girl” has been released in 2009. There are some clear differences between them. In “Gebo and The Shadow” the language chosen was the French (not a novelty though), the approach was much more theatrical than cinematic, the cinematography by Renato Berta was more appealing, and a great international cast was included with the participation of veterans such as Michael Lonsdale, Claudia Cardinale, and Jeanne Moreau. Despite these transformations, many things continue to be a staple in Oliveira’s works, like his way of filming through long and static shots, or the occasional classical score used to enhance the outer composed pictures, or even the rest of the cast, which includes Oliveira’s muse Leonor Silveira who has participated in 19 of his movies. This wordy tale may be a boring experience for some viewers due to its literate tone, murky ambience, and slowness. In my case, I found it an interesting story about anguish and sacrifice, which with a bit less theatrical tones and a bit more camera movement would have achieved better results. But certainly that won’t be an issue for Oliveira’s style supporters.

Hay Road (2012)

Hay Road (2012)
Directed by: Rodrigo Areias
Country: Portugal / Finland

Review: “Hay Road” is a Portuguese drama with Western semblance and political message. Its story goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century and was inspired on David Henry Thoreau's writings concerning the justice and moral of the State. Some of his emblematic sentences are displayed throughout the film to better mirror the ideas behind the images. The story follows Alberto Carneiro, a shepherd who isolated himself in the mountains for ten years. After having received a letter reporting that bandits had killed his brother, Alberto returns to his village to make justice by his own hands. Departing on a solitary journey, he will bump into Captain Bacelo, a corrupt representative of the law. Despite its noble intentions and glaring photography, “Hay Road” wasn’t able to express its ideas in the best way. Trying to adopt a mood that gets close to some of Jim Jarmusch’s works, the film often stumbles in prolonged scenes with lack of intensity. Its disconnections seemed to gain even more strength with the philosophical sentences by Thoreau, constantly interrupting the (little) action on the screen. The philosophy behind the plot showed potentialities, but ultimately got impaired by a flabby execution, as well as difficulties in setting the appropriate mood and pace.

Florbela (2012)

Florbela (2012)
Directed by: Vicente Alves do Ó
Country: Portugal

Review: “Florbela” was loosely based in the life of Portuguese poet Florbela Espanca, whose writings became symbols of love, eroticism and feminism. Filmed in Vila Viçosa, her hometown, and Lisbon, the film depicts the Portuguese 20’s by making use of an interesting cinematography that contrasts shadowy images with colorful tones of blue and yellow. The script just slightly mentions Florbela’s doubtful past, centering mostly on the peculiar relationship with her brother Apeles, for whom she had a special love, and with her patient husband Mário Lage. This trio of characters was very well performed by Dalila Carmo, Albano Jerónimo, and Ivo Canelas, who were capable to pass all the devouring jealousy and discomfort, on every interaction. The poet’s constant struggle was shown with clarity, when confronted with feelings, insecurity on writing, and in her search for recognition. I liked how the light was used to create intimate, warm images, along with the spirited, wordy dialogues. A couple of scenes, however, seemed utterly misplaced, as if coming from nowhere. Nothing really serious, in a movie that was never boring.

Lines Of Wellington (2012)

Lines Of Wellington (2012)
Directed by: Valeria Sarmiento
Country: Portugal / France

Review: “Lines of Wellington” was prepared by Chilean Raul Ruiz to be finished by his widow, Valeria Sarmiento. The movie focuses on the third French invasion of Portugal in 1810, under Napoleon orders. The writing credits belong to Carlos Soboga, who also wrote the screenplay for the charming “Mysteries of Lisbon". In fact, there is no possible comparison between these two movies, except when it comes to cinematography, magnificently handled by Andre Szankowski. “Lines Of Wellington” can’t hide gaps in its narrative, becoming dispersed in its innumerous details and characters. Despite of giving a perception of the period in cause, the absence of a concrete main character, withdrew the possibility to create emotion or giving us some motive to care about. This is a movie of detailed historical facts that needed a greater dose of vitality and focus to stand out. I wonder how it would be if directed by Raul Ruiz.

Tabu (2012)

Tabu (2012)
Directed by: Miguel Gomes
Country: Portugal / others

Review: Aurora had a rich and spoiled youth, spent in a former Portuguese colony in Africa. Now she lives in Lisbon with her african maid, who she accuses of sorcery. She became a fragile, frightened and poor old woman, haunted by memories of a lost lover. Some of the characters have shown margin for further development, yet the plot was rather compelling. The unforeseen invocation of mute cinema to approach the scenes of the past, gave it a distinguished touch, luring the viewer for its magnificent black-and-white pictures. The Religion factor was another fundamental aspect to create a favorable mysticism - guilt, fear and regret are often associated with the devil and hell. Miguel Gomes was deservedly recognized at Berlin Film Festival as an emergent filmmaker.

José and Pilar (2010)

Directed by: Miguel Gonçalves Mendes
Country: Portugal

Summary: A deeply moving story about love, loss and literature.
Review: A documentary about José Saramago, maybe the most controversial Portuguese writer ever, winner of 1998’s Nobel Prize in literature. An honest portrait of the author, demystifying the idea of a cold man and offender of Catholic Church. After watching the film, it became clear that Saramago was straightforward, idealistic and passionate, who was hurt for never have been well accepted in his own country. The relationship with his wife Pilar Del Rio, a Spanish journalist, was crucial in all the process towards recognition and is well documented here. Important to better know Saramago as writer and as human being.
Relevant awards: Audience award (São Paulo).

Blood Of My Blood (2011)

Directed by: João Canijo
Country: Portugal

Plot: A regular family living in the outskirts of Lisbon sees the serenity of their lives shaken beyond any remedy within a week.
Quick comment: Internationally acclaimed this movie has motives to be the proud of modern portuguese cinema. João Canijo does a wonderful job in direction, the acting is sensational and the compelling script evolves to an unexpected and shocking final. Aside from Pedro Costa's trilogy about the Fontainhas neighbourhood, never before a typical low-class portuguese family had been so masterfully portrayed.
Relevant Awards: grand jury prize and special mention at Miami Film Festival, USA; etc.

Morrer Como um Homem (2009)

Realização: João Pedro Rodrigues
País: Portugal

A homossexualidade já se tornou o tema de marca dos filmes de João Pedro Rodrigues. "O fantasma" em 2000 e "odete" em 2005, são disso prova. Desta vez a forma de a abordar é através de Tonia, um veterano travesti, que se depara com diversas contrariedades no trabalho, na vida privada e na saúde. Um filme que não está isento de falhas, mas que assume os riscos frontalmente e sem medo de ir em frente naquilo que se propõe demonstrar. Poderia ser melhor se tivesse um pouco mais de zelo no argumento, mas as magníficas interpretações garantem o filme que foi premiado no Festival de Buenos Aires e obteve 2 nomeações para os Globos de Ouro de Portugal.

Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)

Realizado por: Raoul Ruiz
País: Portugal

Filme com a duração de 272 min., que recria o ambiente do séc. XVIII em Portugal, baseando-se na obra literária de Camilo Castelo Branco. Realizado elegantemente pelo chileno Raoul Ruiz, possui uma narrativa absorvente e uma ambiência perfeita, onde podemos acompanhar casos de amor proibido, mistério, vingança, revelações surpreendentes e estranhas coincidências. A fotografia cuidada, o guarda-roupa e a banda sonora escolhida, não poderiam ter sido melhores, ao que se juntam as magníficas interpretações e empenho dos actores. Uma verdadeira obra-prima, vencedora de diversos prémios em França, Espanha, Brasil e Portugal, e que aconselho vivamente.

O Estranho Caso de Angélica (2010)

Realizado por: Manoel de Oliveira
País: Portugal

Oliveira regressa à realização, um ano após o simpático "singularidades de uma rapariga loira". Desta feita, apresenta-nos uma história de assombração, passada nos anos 50. Um fotógrafo fica completamente perturbado quando é chamado a uma quinta para fotografar uma jovem mulher recentemente falecida. O ambiente criado é espantoso, numa espécie de gótico fantasmagórico, que concede ao filme um charme especial e aguça o interesse pelo desenvolvimento da acção.

Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loira (2009)

Realizado por: Manoel de Oliveira
País: Portugal
Num comboio para o Algarve, um homem desesperado, conta a sua história de amor a uma estranha que viaja a seu lado. Recorrendo a flash-backs, são-nos apresentados os motivos pelos quais esse amor o levou à ruína. Interessante o quanto baste, trata-se de um conto moral acerca da influência do dinheiro na nossa sociedade e das consequências que teve sobre um relacionamento condenado à partida. Com 101 anos, Oliveira mostra que ainda dá cartas. Como referência maior deste cineasta, destaco "Aniki Bóbó", verdadeiro clássico do cinema português, que juntamente com "Belarmino" e "Uma Abelha na Chuva", ambos de Fernando Lopes, assim como algumas obras de João César Monteiro, fazem o nosso orgulho.