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October 1 - October 3

Drifting, Dreaming: The Nocturnal Cinema of João Pedro Rodrigues

One of the rising stars of contemporary Portuguese cinema, João Pedro Rodrigues (b. 1966) has directed three quietly mesmerizing feature films that explore the mysteries of human desire and sexuality, placing him at the vanguard of emerging European auteurs. Rodrigues furthers the deep-rooted tradition of avant-garde narrative film long nourished by Portuguese cinema by embracing a mode of formally rigorous and poetically elliptical cinema that complements the radical filmmaking pioneered by Manoel de Oliveira and Pedro Costa, both subjects of recent HFA retrospectives. At the core of Rodrigues’ cinema is an abiding fascination with the musical patterns of ambiguously shifting genders and polymorphous sexuality, a curiosity about the body as the stage for the dramatic theater of sexual identity that found first expression in his striking and controversial debut film, Phantom. Rodrigues’ latest feature, the Cannes favorite To Die Like a Man, offers a sustained and lively interrogation of the meaning and mutability of gender set within the backstage world of drag queen performers.

A graduate of the Lisbon Film School who originally trained as an ornithologist, Rodrigues has defined an austerely classical style whose eschewal of elaborate editing schemes and camera movement gives propulsive energy to the often-baroque and larger-than-life subject matter of his films. Making strikingly balanced and precise use of light and color, music and silence, Rodrigues’ films share a deceptively calm surface that partially and provocatively cloaks rich, hidden facets, including the deep strains of perverse sexuality and violent behavior that suddenly erupt to lead his protagonists on strange detours from their empty lives. Like Claire Denis and Tsai Ming-liang, Rodrigues mines a vein of contemporary art cinema that intermingles the bleak and the heartfelt, the shockingly abrasive and the disarmingly comic. Yet despite the frequently astringent harshness and even cruelty of his work, Rodrigues carefully avoids exploiting either his audience or his characters and instead creates films that seem equally puzzled and fascinated by the profoundly tragicomic enigma of sexuality and gender.

For the first American retrospective of his work, the Harvard Film Archive is proud to welcome both Rodrigues himself and his frequent collaborator (as actor, production designer and co-director) João Rui Guerra da Mata.

This program is presented in conjunction with SATA airlines. Special thanks: Paulo Cunha Alves, Consul General of Portugal in Boston; Nuno Puim, SATA airlines; Florence Almozini, BAM Cinematek.


Special Event Tickets $12
Friday October 1 at 7pm

Phantom (O Fantasma)

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues, Appearing in Person with João Rui Guerra da Mata
With Ricardo Meneses, Beatriz Torcato, Andre Barbosa
Portugal 2000, 35mm, color, 90 min. Portuguese with English subtitles

Rodrigues’ first feature is a masterfully gripping and almost dialogue-free portrayal of an adolescent garbage collector in Lisbon whose insatiable libido leads him further and further off the well worn path of his everyday life. The title may refer, obliquely, to the young man’s nocturnal existence or to the puzzling figure he strikes to the flirtatious woman whose advances he willfully scorns. Prowling the night city in search of fleeting sexual encounters with other men, the trashman undergoes a strange metamorphosis, increasingly drawn toward an animal existence, running, stalking and crawling along the edge of the city and the frame of Rodrigues’ meticulously choreographed film. Phantom’s elliptical, episodic narrative is anchored in the riveting and fiercely physical performance of nonprofessional actor Ricardo Meneses as the young man haunted by a ghost of his own making.

Happy Birthday! (Parabens!)

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues, Appearing in Person with João Rui Guerra da Mata
With João Rui Guerra da Mata, Eduardo Sobral
Portugal 1997, 35mm, color, 14 min. Portuguese with English subtitles

An important early expression of his skill at depicting character through choreographed movement and visual storytelling, Rodrigues’ short tells the story of an architect awakened by his girlfriend’s telephone call on his thirtieth birthday only to find he has a hangover and another man in his bed. Selected by the Venice Film Festival, this delightful passage through the unexpected half-hour of the two men’s lives marks the beginnings of Rodrigues’ international film career and his collaboration with Guerra da Mata, who plays the bemused architect.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Saturday October 2 at 7pm

To Die Like a Man (Morrer como un homem)

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues, Appearing in Person with João Rui Guerra da Mata
With Fernando Santos, Alexander David, Gonçalo Ferreira de Almeida Portugal 2009, 35mm, color, 133 min. Portuguese with English subtitles

Rodrigues’ critically acclaimed new film opens with a cryptically paradigmatic scene superimposing two polar extremes of masculinity, with a platoon of soldiers on patrol stumbling upon an isolated house deep in a forest inhabited by two cross-dressing men. The unidentified gunshot that suddenly rings out triggers unnerving ellipsis that abruptly shifts the film to Lisbon and the life of a middle-aged transsexual who works as a cabaret performer. Carefully avoiding the tired clichés of the drag queen film, Rodrigues steers clear of the stage lights to instead focus on a life precariously balanced between the emotionally charged spaces of purported escape offered by the dressing room and the domestic realm, with a story of an aging transvestite who struggles to care for a wayward son and a self-destructive junkie boyfriend. A certain theatricality nevertheless exerts itself, animated by the film’s overbrimming soundtrack of popular songs that the characters sing to themselves and to each other in a radical, and occasionally Fassbinder-esque reinvention of the musical as an admixture of melodrama and tragedy.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Sunday October 3 at 7pm

Two Drifters (Odete)

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues, Appearing in Person with João Rui Guerra da Mata
With Ana Cristina de Oliveira, Nuno Gil, João Carreira
Portugal 2005, 35mm, color, 98 min. Portuguese with English subtitles

A response of sorts to Phantom’s vision of desire and sexuality as purely physical expressions, Two Drifters offers an eccentric, ethereal and almost Romantic love story. The film derives its Portuguese title from the name of a lonely young woman stung by her boyfriend’s cruel departure and obsessed with her dead gay neighbor and his grieving lover Rui. Superimposing both aching losses, the deeply sensitive woman inserts herself ever more insistently into the Rui’s uncertain life. Rodrigues depicts the couple’s grief as an otherworldly love triangle as the woman increasingly comes to seem genuinely haunted, perhaps even possessed. Rodrigues’ mysterious film generates an almost palpable sense of the gaping absence and limboed desire left by the sudden departure of a loved one.

China, China

Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues, Appearing in Person with João Rui Guerra da Mata
With Chen Jie, Chen Jia Liang, Luís Rafael Chen
Portuguese 2007, 35mm, color, 19 min. Mandarin and Portuguese with English subtitles

This slice of life picture of a young Chinese mother living in Lisbon and trapped in a loveless marriage marks a sharp departure from Rodrigues’ other work by weaving together trenchant observations on globalism, the culture of gun violence and the pleasures and horrors of the nuclear family. Equally anomalous in Rodrigues’ oeuvre as the film’s geo-political ambitions is its unusual approach to editing, a complex fragmenting of time and space achieved through jump cuts and rapid montages to fragment time and space.

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