Raoul Ruiz – Mistérios de Lisboa AKA Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)

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Raúl Ruiz is one of the great cinematic self-perpetuators, like Louis Feuillade and Jacques Rivette—a film like this gathers a motion and a rhythm that makes it feel like it could on and on, self-generating new stories and new characters ad infinitum.  Based on the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco (whose writing has been the source for Oliveira’s similarly fatalistic romance,Doomed Love), Mysteries of Lisbon is, to paraphrase a line from one of its many characters used to describe a disastrous relationship he had, a game that turns into a bourgeois romantic drama, to which I would add, that turns into a game.  It starts—as all stories must?—with an orphaned boy questioning his parentage and falling into a fever, and out of that starting point the film evolves less as a story than a cartography of characters crossing points in space and time.  On paper it is indeed all melodrama: identities revealed, lives saved in the past coming back to haunt the saviors, secret connections, loves turns to hatreds. Continue reading

Manoel de Oliveira – O Pão AKA Bread [Short Version] (1959)

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Each day, a man must work around the clock to produce and acquire bread: throwing the seeds into earth, helping the breeding of the corn, the corn’s recolt, transport to the mills, manipulation of the flour into actual bread, transport to a variety of locations and consumers. Continue reading

João Nuno Pinto – América (2010)

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America a tragic story told in a burlesque and ironic way, within a love triangle. Liza, a beautiful young Russian woman, is married to Victor, a small-time crook who lives on scheming and swindling, born and bred in Portugal. Fernanda, the ex wife, who ten year’s passed decides to drop by, is the gang leader, an Andalusian Spaniard. Victor has to decide which women to follow, Liza cannot really leave him, Fernanda doesn’t really want to stay. The six year old kid hangs everybody by a string. Eastern European newcomers give new business perspectives that are going to rock their small world by the beach: Cova do Vapor. A chaotic neighborhood of precarious housing located at Lisbon’s gates, where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic, where fishermen and retired factory workers coexist. An obscure little place, where everything suddenly changes, even the weather. After a violent storm, the gangster’s house gets a rusted fishing boat hanging on top of their home. In the midst of the tragedy, there’s always room for love, and most of all, hope for a piece paper called passport, sometimes fake! Continue reading

João Nicolau – John From (2015)

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Rita has it all. She is 15 years old and the summer is ahead of her. She floods the balcony floor and splashes about while soaking up the mighty sun. She has an ex-future boyfriend and an ever-present best friend. She braids her hair and goes to parties.
Naturally, from Portugal to the South Pacific, this whole fortress gently falls apart when Rita visits the exhibition put on by a new neighbour in the local community center. Continue reading

Manoel de Oliveira – Aniki Bóbó (1942)

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The story takes place in the old streets of Porto and by the banks of the Douro River. A gang of very young kids has just accepted a new member, Carlitos, a shy boy who has “played it tough” by stealing a doll in a shop. Carlitos soon develops a crush on Terezinha,the only girl of the group. The trouble is that Eduardo, the “boss”, is also in love with the pretty little girl. And he will not allow any rival to challenge him… Continue reading

Manoel de Oliveira – Francisca (1981)

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Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira made this amazing film in 1981, at the age of 72; as powerful as it is stark, it suggests a blending of the modernist, minimalist techniques of Jean-Marie Straub with the elusive spiritual subject matter of Max Ophuls. In 19th-century Portugal, a rising young novelist falls in love with the daughter of an English army officer, provoking the obscure envy of an aristocratic friend, who resolves to marry the girl himself and make her suffer for her betrayal. The baroque plot is presented in a series of single-take tableaux, which do not attempt to embody the drama as much as allude to it, leaving the dense and passionate feelings to take shape entirely in the spectator’s mind. Oliveira limits himself to showing only what can truly be shown: not the story but a representation of the story, not the emotions but their material manifestations as they have crossed the decades. A masterpiece of the modern cinema, difficult but extremely rewarding.

Review by Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader: Continue reading