Portugal is without a doubt the most cinephile country on Earth. Forget about the far more famous and mythologized French film culture, here is a country whose movie buffs, historians, presidents, poets, and filmmakers all have their own kind of abiding fascination with cinema. The Portuguese love affair with cinema of all stripes—and particularly the freedom and openness of documentary—is deeply connected to a longstanding fascination a great many Portuguese have with poetry and art in general, something that characterizes one major aspect of the national character.
Suitably, then, the films in this brief retrospective of recent Portuguese cinema all could be said to also be about movies and moviemaking. They have their own subjects, of course. Often commanding and overpowering ones. That could be the buildings of architect Eduardo Souto Moura, a collection of letters exchanged by poets Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Jorge de Sena between 1957 and 1978, an elaborate mining complex in Fundão and Covilhã, or simply a trip around the world taken by a young Japanese man in the 1970s, recalled through a personal archive of photographs and diaries.
In any case, the subject—implicitly, but powerfully—is cinema in all its varied forms. Light and shadow. Creation. The sustenance of our own imagination and lives of fantasy. Acts of illusion, memory, and reconstruction. In other cases in this retrospective, the subject is more explicitly cinematic, taking what is a buried idea in these films and moving into the realm of filmmaking and film-thinking. In two films by Jorge Cramez, we see poetic explorations, deconstructions, and reworkings of the very idea of the video assist and of a "behind the scenes" documentary. In Manuel Mozos's magnificent documentary on the former director of the Portuguese cinematheque, João Bénard da Costa, we are lead into a labyrinth of cinematic memories and impressions; a life lived fully and lived through cinema.
Above all, with Joaquim Pinto's justly celebrated What Now? Remind Me, the balance of cinephilic obsession and reflection suffuses perfectly with the need and desire to record life as it is, to blend the genuine stuff of existence—in Pinto's case, a year of experimental drug therapies to treat his HIV and VHC—with the dreams of movies we love that we all share.
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