It's a hard thing for a Portuguese to comment on Portuguese films, whether they please him or not. The thing is, Portuguese cinema, no matter on which grounds it walks (in Portugal the question is reduced to films being "commercial" or "artistic") is always to be consumed internally. There is absolutely no international projection for any Portuguese films. Two authors make their way outside, Pedro Costa and Oliveira, but they are directed to very specific and relatively restricted audiences, and even if they had larger numbers of ticket buyers, that still wouldn't be mildly enough to carry the rest of the production with them. Part of the problem seems to be in the very equation of the problem. Most of the commentators waste time babbling about how "Portuguese cinema" taken as an organic autonomous being should be made "to sell" to as many people as it can or "to please" the critics who will decide on its qualities. According to this leaderless common sense theory, these 2 aspects are incompatible. For those standing for this, "American cinema" (another pointless expression given the simple vastness of what it refers to) should guide the way.
Why does it matter to reference this while commenting on this film? Because, among many characteristics, its director is someone who spends a lot of time addressing this problem. It's not a light subject. I believe cinema can truly be a blessed medium to address matters of collective identity, national concerns. What better document to understand how the American and soviet governments tried to bend the minds of the public during the Cold War than their cinema? So of course i am deeply concerned that in Portugal we haven't been able to sustain a constant narrative of our national themes. Even more that the majority of our films are simply not worth watching.
That's the other face of the problem. The true thing is not that each director chooses to "be" commercial or to "be" an author. That's just fireworks to consider it. The real problem, associated with the dreadful distribution devices, is that the films simply aren't good enough to deserve the attention of a national crowd, less more of an international one. I admit, the Portuguese public is much harsher on a Portuguese film than it is on an American one. In other words, people will be willing to admit certain things in an American film that will promptly dismiss in a Portuguese one. But even if it's that not fair, it should raise the bar, and produce a reaction on Portuguese filmmakers.
Now we have Vasconcelos. He's been around for quite a while now. With his effort and his merit, he has been able to shoot throughout the years. Not as much as it would be desirable for a professional director working under a healthy film industry, but he's had his chances. What legacy does he leave? What qualities has he brought? He imported models, and made them worse by not adapting them, most of the times. His recent work, for the last 12 years, has been to grasp one after another American genre, and deliver it as unchanged as possible. As American as possible. Filmmaking by the numbers. Trying to achieve recognition by doing exactly the same as others did somewhere else. What's the merit of that? It's not about where you place yourself within the world of film. It's about whether you work as a hack or as a genuine creator. You don't have to be a genius. If you take Hollywood, or the french new wave, 2 dear references for this filmmaker, most of their protagonists are pretty far from being geniuses. Most of them simply adapt to the circumstances, and go with the flow. But competence is necessary, honesty in the adaptations as well.
This film isn't honest, and thus fails. As a Portuguese, i see nothing here. I'll admit a similarly targeted film coming from the American market, because i'll see it as a piece of the puzzle, a bit of its industry. And most of those films, even the worse ones, are still more apt than this one. To do this, to use an always rare chance to do a genuine Portuguese film, no matter how it would be done, and to blow the chance away doing this, that annoys me. That irritates. There is no speech to make up for the pain to watch it. film is more fiction than life, i've always stood for that. But in lying about real life, it conveys a larger notion of reality. That was true about the Portuguese comedies of the 30' and above all the 40', those films so dear to this author, which references them here, at the beginning of the film, with a character literally watching an old Portuguese classic. While being politically sponsored films, cleverly twisted to become a critic to its own sponsor, those films became the propaganda and its reverse, a fine portrait of the contradictions and tensions of those days. Where is that here? What is the point of entering the contemporary world of stupid soap operas that dominate Portuguese television and dumb people only to produce a film which is as vapid as any of those soaps. To talk about the problems only to become part of the problems, that has been the latest developments of this filmmakers career.
I usually am annoyed when i watch a bad film. Sometimes i amuse myself with parallel things related to the film. But nothing hurts more than to comment like this on a Portuguese film.
My opinion: 1/5
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