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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Cannes’ Best Director Miguel Gomes Salutes Portuguese Masters

Updated: Jun 15



Grand Tour follows an Asian Grand Tour in the early 20th-century of Edward (Gonçalo Waddington), a civil servant of the British Empire, and his fiancée Molly (Crista Alfaiate), from whom Edward is running away. It is scheduled to open in Portuguese theaters in the autumn.

 

As Miguel Gomes accepted the Palm d’Or for Best Director at the 77th international Cannes Film Festival for the film, Grand Tour, he acknowledged the Portuguese masters who made him “want to make cinema”.

 

“I have to thank Portuguese cinema because I know from where I’m coming. Great Portuguese directors like (Manoel de) Oliveira (winner of the Cannes Honorary Palm d’Or in 2008) and (João César) Monteiro – real masters – made me want to make cinema. And so, I owe something very important to Portuguese cinema. So, thank you also to them,” Gomes said, on SIC Notícias, after he took the Palme d’Or from German director Wim Wenders (1984 winner for Paris, Texas), at the festival’s closing ceremony on May 25.

 

Miguel Gomes is the first Portuguese to win the Best Director distinction. This year, Portuguese cinema was represented by six films. Mau Por Um Momento (Bad for a Moment), by Daniel Soares, received a special mention in the Short Film category.

 

Grand Tour follows the two separate trajectories of an Asian Grand Tour in the early 20th-century of Edward (Gonçalo Waddington), a civil servant of the British Empire, and his fiancée Molly (Crista Alfaiate), from whom Edward begins running away on the day that she arrives for the wedding, according to CNN Portugal (May 25).

 

Critics raved about the film. The 118-year-old entertainment weekly Variety (May 22) wrote:

 

“Portuguese singularity Miguel Gomes comes like a comet across the Cannes competition with Grand Tour, an enchanting, enlivening, era-spanning, continent-crossing travelogue that runs the very serious risk of infecting you with the antidote: a potent dose of wanderlust for life.

 

“’Abandon yourself to the world,’ says one character, a Japanese monk prone to walking about with a wicker basket on his head, ‘and see how generous it is to you’. Abandon yourself to Grand Tour and reap similar, joyful rewards.”

 

The Hollywood Reporter (May 22) describes Grand Tour as a “beguiling and elusive” “fever dream. Miguel Gomes and three others wrote the film after they returned from their visit to Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and China, according to Expresso (May 28). An accompanying director of photography shot 16mm film. The screenwriters responded to the images and sounds while writing the script in studios in Lisbon and Rome.

 

“The scripted scenes featuring actors were shot on studio sets, assuming a look that recalls classical cinema. By alternating between the staged and documentary images, Grand Tour elegantly bridges years of (film) history, though without any pretense to seamlessness,” wrote Sight and Sound, British Film Institute (May 23).

 

“When Edward’s train derails on the way from Singapore to Bangkok, shots of a train traveling through the jungle are followed by Edward sitting near a single wagon that is lying on its side in an obviously fake forest. In the cities, no effort was made to seek out old buildings and avoid evidence of the present day – the streets are teeming with modern cars, people use smartphones and skyscrapers block out the horizon.”

 

What was the germ of the idea for the film?

 

Miguel Gomes told Expresso that it came from an anecdotal two-page episode in Somerset Maugham’s travel book, The Gentleman in the Parlor: A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong (1930), in which a prospective bridegroom runs away from country to country.

 

“At the time, I was about to marry Maureen (Fazendeiro, filmmaker and one of the co-writers of Grand Tour). I thought the situation was really funny,” said the 52-year-old director.

 

At a press conference in Cannes, Miguel Gomes said that the film is “about the determination of women and the cowardice of men,” reported CNN Portugal.

 

Both of the film’s two parts, one following Edward and the other Molly, begin with puppets, according to Expresso.

 

“Cinema is a more complex form of a puppet show,” the filmmaker told Expresso. “It’s closer to that than literature, for example. In the film are the puppets that we filmed in Asia. This is a form of spectacle that involves the fabrication of an artificial world that tells us about the world in which we live. But this fabricated spectacle is parallel. It’s not life. The naturalistic cinema that tries to convince us that we are immersed in life is a cinema that I do not believe in. It is a useless and even desperate effort. I think cinema has to be something else. You have to have filters, invent your rules.”

 

Sight and Sound wrote that the film “all culminates in a miracle and, as with everything else, that fact that Gomes shows us the strings only adds to its magic”.

 

Grand Tour is scheduled to open in Portuguese theaters in the autumn, according to Público (May 27).

 

Aurora (Laura Soveral and Ana Moreira) is a dying old woman who feels the call of a man whose name she had never spoken to her housekeeper, Santa (Isabel Cardoso), or her neighbor, Pilar (Teresa Madruga). The three live in an old apartment complex in Lisbon, but the man hearkens back to an episode of anguished love and crime when Aurora and her husband had a tea plantation in Mozambique. Aurora asks for the help of the other two women to find the secret lover of her youth. The past and the present merge in this romance whose title is a homage to FW Murnau’s 1931 film of the same name.

 

After starting his career as a film critic at the newspaper Público, Miguel Gomes directed a series of short films from 1999 followed by his first feature film in 2004, A Cara Que Mereces (The Face You Deserve), according to Palais de Tokyo. In 2012, Tabu, won the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Two years later, his trilogy, As Mil e Uma Noites (Arabian Nights), borrowed the structure and form of the tale and transposed it to Portugal between July 2013 and August 2014, when the country’s austerity policies ravaged it.

 

The Lisbon native, who lives in the capital, studied at the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema of the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa. He and many of his colleagues adhered to the avant-garde Nova Cinema movement, which broke with the ideology of the authoritarian Estado Novo in the 1960s.  The Portuguese movement is largely inspired by Italian Neorealism (Luchino Visconti’s La Terra Trema, or The Earth Trembles, 1948) and the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave, director François Truffaut was the 1959 Cannes winner for Les 400 Coups (The 400 Blows).

 

In his acceptance speech at Cannes, Miguel Gomes expressed his artistic debt to two Portuguese filmmakers: Manoel de Oliveira and João César Monteiro. Both were giants in Portuguese and international film communities.


Manoel de Oliveira

 

Manoel de Oliveira (b. Cedofeita, Porto 1908- d. Porto 2015) had hoped to become an actor.


When he was 20, he enrolled at the acting school of the Italian film director Césare Rino Lupo, according to Portal Cinema (December 11, 2008).  He was an extra in Lupo’s Fátima Milagrosa in 1928. He also appeared in the popular classic A Canção de Lisboa by Cotinelli Telmo in 1933.

 

Incredibly prolific, Porto’s native son was working until the end of his 106 years. His directing career began with his first completed film, Douro, Faina Fluvial (Labor on the Douro River) (1931), a silent documentary. The audience booed the film at its premiere in Lisbon at the International Critics Congress. The negative reaction puzzled the Italian dramatist, Luigi Pirandello (Six Characters in Search of an Author), who also was there.

 

The opening credits of his first feature film, Aniki Bóbó (1942), shot in black-and-white, show that the movie was inspired by a poem of Rodrigues de Freitas and verses of Alberto Serpa. Cinemateca Portuguesa-Museu do Cinema credits Rodrigues de Freitas’ short story, Os Meninos Milionários (The Millionaire Boys). In Aniki Bóbó, Porto’s streets, the river and the waterfront are the children’s priceless assets. Their freedom and happiness are only limited by the authoritarian rigidity of their teacher at school and the police officer walking his beat.

 

There is a rivalry between two boys, Carlitos and Eduardinho, and their attempts to win over the same girl, Teresinha, the only girl in the cast. Charismatic but also a bully, Eduardinho is the leader of a group of children, who were played by non-professional actors, summarized The Roots of Neorealism (May 2013), Sight and Sound, British Film Institute:


“His love rival, Carlitos, seems to be his polar opposite. Shy and naïve, he nonetheless lands what he thinks is a major coup when he steals a doll Teresinha has admired in a shop; but this by no means signals the end of the competition between the boys.” 

 

Manoel de Oliveira's first feature film, Aniki Bóbó (1942), a black-and-white film about a rivalry between two boys, Carlitos and Eduardinho, and their attempts to win over the same girl, Teresinha

 

Germano Silva, now a historian, journalist, writer and columnist for Jornal de Notícias but then an 11-year-old who played in the same streets, recalled the film 80 years later, repeating the title’s namesake children’s game rhyme with the right cadence, according to Notícias Magazine (December 18, 2022).

 

“I saw everyday life. I saw myself in those kids, the same games, the police and the thieves. It was great euphoria.”

 

However, according to Notícias Magazine:  

 

“Critics didn’t like it. They found it subversive, feelings of adults in children’s bodies, plans that clashed with the ideas of dictatorship by showing poverty and misery.”


Order and stability were the goals of António de Oliveira Salazar’s Estado Novo (1933-1974), an anti-liberal, anti-communist and anti-democratic dictatorship guided by authoritarian principles.

 

The dictatorship was overthrown 50 years ago: Manoel de Oliveira’s film is still alive.

 

The filmmaker said that Aniki Bóbó predated Neorealism and believes, in some way, that he started this trend in cinema.

 

He is not alone. The Roots of Neorealism (May 2013), Sight and Sound, British Film Institute, said:

 

“I’d like to explore 12 titles which, in various ways, can be said to have inspired, influenced and/or anticipated neorealism. . . . I also wanted to make room for works that appeared at the same time as neorealism and are very much in the same vein but are nowhere near as well-known as they should be (Manoel de Oliveira’s Aniki Bóbó and Jean Grémillon’s The Woman Who Dared.”

 

After Aniki Bóbó, Manoel de Oliveira spent 14 years without filming, his projects rejected or censored, according to Notícias Magazine. He admitted to abandoning his film career and dedicating himself to viticulture in the Douro in a 1946 interview with Filmagen magazine, according to Portal Cinema.

 

“Since cinema is an expensive art (even more so before the advent of digital), the possibility of making films independently on a personal basis was almost a practical impossibility. Therefore, censorship in cinema did not have to deal with the same types of issues as in the other arts and literature, since, from the outset, the means of production were controlled by the regime,” according to Jornal de Letras, Artes e Ideias (April 17).

 

“Portuguese films were doubly targeted: the script needed prior approval by the censors, as did the final object. In this way, the possibility of making a cinema that escaped a concept pre-defined by the regime became practically unfeasible.”


Manoel de Oliveira's Ato de Primavera (Rite of Spring) (1963) is a work of docufiction, a mix of visual anthropology and fiction, a tradition widely explored by Portuguese directors.


The film moves in three timelines: the time of Christ’s crucifixion, the 16th-century world of the writer, Francisco Vaz de Guimaraes, and the year of the film, according to the movie source IMDb.  It records the annual re-enactment of the Passion of Christ in Curulha, Chaves Municipality, Trás-as-Montes, a province in the interior with well-preserved traditions. It is remembered for “a furious apocalyptic montage that links Christ’s death to the violence and lunacy of the Vietnam era”.


“A certain audacity earned him the suppression of a scene by the censors,” according to Antena 2 (April 2, 2015). “What’s more: because of some inconvenient dialogues, he spent 10 days in the PIDE (secret police) dungeons, where he met the writer Urbano Tavares Rodrigues.


PIDE (International and State Defense Police) (1945-1969) was responsible for the repression of all forms of opposition to the regime of the Estado Novo.


João César Monteiro

 

The other filmmaker cited by Miguel Gomes, João César Monteiro, is described as part of the Nova Cinema movement. But really, he was an original who defied category.

 

After his death, at 64, of lung cancer, Público (February 4, 2003) wrote:

 

“In As Bodas de Deus (The Wedding of God), the 1999 film in which João César Monteiro ended the trilogy of his character (and largely alter ego), João de Deus, there was at one point a phrase-question-statement, uttered by himself: “How many Césares have I been?”

 

“There were several Césares, and in the end there was only one. One can start by remembering some of the most remote traces of César Monteiro’s passage through the Portuguese cinematographic landscape, the texts about films in the magazine O Tempo e o Modo, to understand that César was always César, lyrical and sublime, provocative and iconoclastic, aristocratic when he wanted to be, ordinary when necessary (or vice versa) – one minute reciting Holderlin (a key figure in 18th- and 19th-century German Romanticism), the next saying swear words that would make sailors blush.”

 

Irreverent and unpredictable, the director began as a film critic in the 1960s for Imagem, Diário de Lisboa, O Seculo and other publications.

 

In 1963, he studied at the London Film School on a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Two years later, he began work on his first film, Quem Espera por Sapatos de Defunto Morre Descalço (Who Waits for the Deceased’s Shoes Dies Barefoot). Shot in 16mm, the 33-minute film, about a young intellectual who finds his money and girlfriend gone, is called one of the first fiction films of the Nova Cinema.

 

Among other international recognitions, Recordações da Casa Amarela (Memories of the Yellow House) (1989), which seems to revisit Who Waits for the Deceased’s Shoes Dies Barefoot, won the Silver Lion at the Venice Festival.

 

 

Time Out (September 10, 2012) wrote that Memories of the Yellow House is “a fascinating, quietly caustic critique of the outmoded mores of Portugal’s petite bourgeoisie:


“The impoverished tenant of a Lisbon boardinghouse, João de Deus (played to perfection by the writer/director) is one of the great miseries of the movies. He muses, in a dispassionate but doomy voice-over on death, illness, solitude, and the bedbugs that make a nightly attack on his testicles.


“As the seedy, sexually frustrated, but occasionally kindly protagonist proceeds towards a pathetic, cracked assault on his harridan landlady’s daughter, it’s hard to know whether to laugh, weep or simply slit your wrists. In the end, it’s that wry, detached sense of comic absurdity that saves the film from plunging into maudlin miserabilism.


“Using long, often static takes, an elliptical narrative, and stark but stylish compositions, Monteiro sidesteps psychodrama to produce something altogether cooler, more thought-provoking, and more perverse.”


Veredas (1977) and Silvestre (1981) follow the tradition of docufiction.

 

Both films promote a return to the historical and mythical past, with legends, myths and popular songs passed down orally but also those of classical authors, such as the Greek playwright, Aeschylus, who wrote down stories. 

 

In Veredas, for the first of many times, the director appears in his film as his alter ego. In this film, he plays a friar and a leader of robbers. Monteiro’s debut feature is described as having a “very unconventional plot” with “a strong imaginative component and a notable documentary aspect, the film is a reflection of our cultural roots, spanning centuries in a country with a long history”, wrote RTP.

 

A man and women drive down from Tras-as-Montes to the sea. During their journey, they encounter legends, sounds, cliffs and obstacles.

 

“A young shepherd falls in love with one of the devil’s daughters while trying to recover his missing sheep. A woman sees her son being kidnapped by three wolves. Athena is confronted with a goddess, who speaks through the voice of the people.”

 

In 2000, the director shocked critics and audiences with Branca de Neve (Snow White). The film, adapted from a play of the same time by Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956), stirred up controversy. It was composed of mostly a black screen with short shots inserted throughout its 75 minutes with music by Gioachino Rossini, Heinz Holliger and Salvatore Sciarrino.

 

“At the beginning, Walser, dressed in black, stretched out in a snow-covered field, died of a heart attack near the mental asylum, where he was hospitalized for much of his life. Every now and then, the sky with faint white clouds is punctuated with unlikely sounds of nature. At the end, in a close-up shot, in the middle of a forest, Monteiro himself murmurs inaudible words. The play’s dialogues, translated into literary Portuguese, are read by the various interpreters in a drawn-out, monotone. Everything else is up to the viewer,” according to Wikipedia.

 

Cinept, Cinema Português wrote:

 

“Walter Benjamin Robert Waiser picks up the story where Grimm left off. . . . And here we have the prince and the young girl, as pure as her name implies – evoking for us Waiser’s own death in the snow – terrified by the bestial scene they witness between the queen and the hunter. The man is on top of the woman and their posture seems to the two young innocents amazingly brutal. Is this what love is? A grappling of flesh?

 

“Poisoned kisses, love and crime intimately interwoven. It is imperative that we put right Grimm’s tale. The mother, stepmother, could not possibly have been so wicked – it would have been unbearable. But Snow White must learn that love and hate are never far apart. She understands. Like Robert, she felt ‘hurt, ostracized/persecuted, hated’. . . . She has opted for happiness.”


Born in São Julião da Figueira da Foz, Figueira da Foz, in 1939, João César Monteiro, died in Lisbon in 2003.


‘Poor but Happy’


The Portuguese government established a small film industry with Tobis (Companhia Portuguesa de Filmes Sonoros Tobis Klangfilm), which was created in 1932, with the purpose of supporting Portuguese cinema, thereby challenging Hollywood.

 

“The regime carried out its direct propaganda in institutional films and so-called current affairs, But, at the same time, it defended and consolidated itself through entertainment, with moving images, which were still a recent phenomenon at the time,” according to Jornal de Letras, Artes e Ideias (April 17).

 

“The golden age of Portuguese comedy reveals a controlled cinema, with a clear implicit message of protecting the social and political status quo, and subtle edification of the regime itself. What we see in great classics, such as A Canção de Lisboa (1933, Cottinelli Telmo), Aldeia da Roupa Branca (1938, Chianca de Garcia), O Pai Tirano (1941, António Lopes Ribeiro), O Pátio das Cantigas (1942, Francisco Ribeiro) or O Leão da Estrela (1947, Arthur Duarte) is the crystallization of a social model and a moral and political ideology, which translates into the idea ‘poor but happy’.

 

Miguel Gomes at a press conference for the Cannes Film Festival winners

(Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy/Agence France Presse)

 

Portuguese Films Take Risks


Filipa Reis, owner of the company, Pedra no Sapato, which produced Grand Tour, said in Expresso (May 26):


“Knowing that we are not a country with great financial capabilities, we have invested in the possibility of taking risks in projects that are our own. In other words, authors have the possibility of creating freely and this is the most precious thing in our cinema, and I think it is what brought us here.”


Making the Grand Tour cost 4.5 million euros (nearly 5 million dollars), reported Expresso, while making the racial horror, Get Out (2017), a film out of the United States, cost about the same: 4,127,940 euros (4.5 million dollars), according to Filmustage (April 10, 2023).


The average cost of producing a film can range from a few thousand for independent films to hundreds of millions for Hollywood blockbusters. The film budget hinges on elements such as the screenplay, cast, crew, location, visual effects and marketing initiatives.


Producer Filipa Reis continued: “As the producer of Miguel’s next film, (the Cannes award) gives me an expectation – I hope it is fulfilled – that the next film could be financed faster and in less time. One of the problems with Portuguese cinema is that, as funding is low, it takes many years to complete the films. My ambition is for Miguel’s next film to reach cinemas faster than this one arrived.”

 

 


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