Little known in the US, António Reis (1927-1991) is revered in his native Portugal as a visionary artist whose films and many years as a beloved teacher and mentor exerted an immeasurable influence over the post-Salazar rebirth of Portuguese cinema and the new generation of filmmakers that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Born in Oporto, Reis found renown first as a poet before meeting the great Manoel de Oliveira who invited Reis to be assistant director on Oliveira’s first radical masterpiece, Rite of Spring, working alongside another important collaborator, Paulo Rocha. The pioneering mode of poetic ethnographic cinema which Oliveira and Reis definedguided the course of the four extraordinary works Reis co-directed with his wife, the psychiatrist Margarida Cordeiro (b. 1939), culminating in Trás-os-Montes, a lyrical search for the very “soul” of Portuguese culture and history in the myths and peasant folklore embodied in Portugal’s remote far-north region. Admired by the likes of Joris Ivens, Jean Rouch and Jean-Marie Straub, the films of Reis and Cordeiro invented a poetically liberated and hypnotically cinematographic film language, a style and sensibility that set the course of Portugal’s lasting tradition of radical cinema, exerting a formative influence, for example, upon João Cesar Monteiro. Yet equally important was Reis’ career and legacy as a long-time senior professor of film production and aesthetics at Lisbon’s Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema. As a tribute to Reis’ inspiration of the most important talents in contemporary Portuguese cinema, this retrospective includes a selection of works by Reis’ students including Pedro Costa, João Pedro Rodrigues and Joaquim Sapinho. – Haden Guest
Special thanks: Pedro Fernandes Duarte – Rosa Filmes; Alexandra Pinho – Instituto Camões; Paulo Cunha Alves, Consul General of Portugal in Boston; José Manuel de Costa, Luis Miguel Oliveira- Cinemateca Portuguesa; João Pedro Rodrigues; Pedro Costa; Ana Conboy and Sofia Soares – Boston College.
Directed by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. With Ilda Almeida, Rosalía Comba, Luis Ferreira
Portugal 1976, 35mm, color, 111 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
“For me, this film reveals a new cinematographic language.”
– Jean Rouch
Reis and Cordeiro’s undisputable masterpiece exploded the meaning and possibilities of ethnographic cinema with its lyrical exploration of the still resonant myths and legends embodied in the people and landscapes of Portugal’s remote Trás-os-Montes region. Evoking a kind of geologically Bergsonian time, with past and present layered upon one another, Trás-os-Montes interweaves evocative recreations of the ancient worlds and encounters with atavistic peasantry, following the pilgrim’s path traced by Reis and Cordeiro as they led their skeletal crew from village to village in search of the poetic essence of the Portuguese language and imagination. Painstakingly researched and shot over the course of one year, Reis and Cordeiro became intimate with every person included in their ambitious film, carefully selecting the different voices, faces and gestures that would together provide an extraordinary composite, associative and mythological response to the question of how to define a “national cinema.”
Directed by Manoel de Oliveira and António Reis. With Nicolau Nunes Da Silva, Ermelinda Pires, Maria Madalena
Portugal 1962, 35mm, color, 94 min. In Portuguese
While location shooting for another film, Oliveira stumbled upon the subject for Rite of Spring, the annual passion play enacted in a village in the same remote northern region of Portugal that would inspire Reis’ most important work. Intrigued by the ritualistic and incantatory qualities of the vernacular production, Oliveira returned with Reis and set about directing the villagers in a re-enactment of the passion play, adding a rich performative layer to the film. A fascinating meta-ethnographic study of local tradition and history that folds in on itself, Rite of Spring climaxes unexpectedly in a furious Bruce Conner style apocalyptic montage that links Christ's death to the violent lunacy of the Vietnam era.
Rite of Spring will be presented without subtitles. The film's dialogue consists entirely of the text of a Passion play, a dramatization of the trial, suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
Directed by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. With Ana Maria Martins Guerra, Manuel Ramalho Eanes, Octávio Lixa Filgueiras
Portugal 1985, 35mm, color, 114 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
More than a decade after their first feature, Reis and Cordeiro returned once more to the Trás-os-Montes region, using the breathtaking landscape as the evocative setting for an intergenerational portrait of family as a variation of the poetically non-linear time explored in their earlier film. Ripe with floating symbols of the ancient and modern world, Ana is a meditation on history and human civilization and the infinitesimally small but profound role of the individual within the larger movement of longue durée. The film’s minimal and Rilke-inspired dialogue reveals Reis and Cordeiro’s interest in a deeper, non-verbal mode of communication, not only between generations but also between the land and those passing through it. At the center of the sweeping cycle of life described by Ana is the haunting figure of Cordeiro’s own mother, cast as an aging matriarch whose intimacy with her children, grandchildren and with the windswept landscapes around her is tinged with the melancholy of her imminent, final departure.
Directed by João Pedro Rodrigues
Portugal 1988, 16mm, color, 12 min
The Escola Superior thesis film of João Pedro Rodrigues (b. 1966) reads as a tribute to his mentor Reis with its minimalist portrait of the day in the life of a shepherd.
Directed by Paulo Rocha. With Geraldo del Rey, Isabel Ruth, Maria Barroso
Portugal 1966, 35mm, b/w, 90 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
The second and arguably most important film by Paulo Rocha (b. 1935), one of the central figures of the Novo Cinema, Change of Live is a direct response to Oliveira’s Rite of Spring (and, indirectly, to Varda’s Pointe Courte) and an important precursor to the radical documentary-shaped fiction of Trás-os-Montes and, much later, the work of Pedro Costa and Miguel Gomes. Captivated by the remote Portuguese fishing village of Furadouro, Rocha chose not to make a traditional documentary but rather to engage the specificities of the people and place through fiction, crafting a melancholy story about a soldier’s return to a changing world. Inspired by his experience working with Oliveira on Rite of Spring and The Hunt, Rocha “cast” the local villagers as themselves, interspersed with experienced actors led by the great Isabel Ruth who would go onto become a Oliveira regular and an iconic presence in Costa’s Ossos. The poetry of the local vernacular is captured in the textured dialogue written by Reis, who met Rocha through Oliveira. Regardless of the steadily building critical acclaim which followed the release of Change of Life – and despite its controversial depiction of a disillusioned Angola War veteran – Rocha effectively ceased filmmaking until the 1980s.
Directed by António Reis
Portugal 1974, 35mm, color, 35 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
While working at Lisbon’s famed Miguel Bombarda sanatorium, psychologist Margarida Cordeiro discovered a series of arresting drawings by the subject of her first film with Reis, a recently deceased former patient and paranoid schizophrenic named Jaime Fernandes. Keeping a deeply respectful yet never tentative distance from the asylum world as a realm of unfathomable mystery, Reis and Cordeiro linger over Fernandes’ remarkably expressive drawings, assembling a profoundly moving and hypnotic portrait of a gifted artist and powerful emblem of Portugal’s virtual imprisonment during the repressive Salazar regime.
Directed by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. With Ana Umbelina, Balbina Ferro, Cristina DeJesus
Portugal 1989, 35mm, color, 95 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
Marking a stylistically and philosophically turn away from the earlier features, The Sand Rose is Reis and Cordeiro’s most abstract, conceptual and literary work. The film’s collage structure gathers texts from multiple sources – including Kafka and Montaigne – and crafts a world of theatrical artifice far from the documentary inspired naturalism of Ana and Trás-os-Montes. Reis and Cordeiro’s least known film has lingered in obscurity and never recovered from the unfairly negative reviews that resulted in its severely limited release. Reis died less than two years later, just as he and Cordeiro were about to begin an ambitious adaptation of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Parámo.
Directed by Joaquim Sapinho. With Pedro Sousa, Joana Barata, Sofia Grillo
Portugal 2011, 35mm, color, 116 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
A meditative study of loneliness and longing, the latest film by Joaquim Sapinho (b. 1964) tells the story of a brother and sister coming to terms with the dissolution of their family. A former champion surfer who spends his days in pursuit of the most dangerous waves, the young man is torn between the Estoril beaches and the nearby monastery where he has recently taken his first vows. With This Side of Resurrection Sapinho offers a minimalist and elemental fable about faith, using poetic montage to boldly juxtapose the surging drama of the sea with the cloistered worlds of the monastery. A former student of Reis, Sapinho reveals the influence of his mentor in the innate communication between his characters and their environment, between the surfer and the seascapes that both inspire and threaten to destroy him.
Directed by Pedro Costa. With Pedro Hestnes, Nuno Ferreira,
Inês de Medeiros
Portugal 1989, 35mm, b/w, 95 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
A lushly stylized romantic fable, Costa's auspicious debut demonstrates his love and knowledge of classical Hollywood and European art cinema. With poignant echoes of Nicholas Ray, Robert Bresson and F.W. Murnau, Costa explores the plight of two brothers and a young kindergarten teacher being pursued by some unseemly characters, including the boys' nefarious uncle.
Directed by Manuela Viegas. With Jean Christophe Bouvet, Francisco Relvas, Raquel Marques
Portugal/France/Spain 1999, 35mm, color, 110 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
The first and only feature film to date by influential editor Manuela Viegas (Costa's O Sangue, João Cesar Monteiro's Silvestre) is a stylish coming of age tale and a moving portrait of the slow death of a rural Portuguese town. Co-written by Viegas and Joaquim Sapinho, Glória is a nuanced exploration of first love's dangerous exhilaration, awakened in the eponymous thirteen-year-old by the release from prison and homecoming of the stationmaster's older and enigmatic son. A central figure of the Portuguese film scene of the 1980s and 1990s, Viegas taught alongside Reis in the Escola Superior.
Directed by Vítor Gonçalves. With Isabel Galhardo, Diogo Dória,
José Manuel Mendes
Portugal 1986, 16mm, color, 80 min. Portuguese with English subtitles
One of the great Portuguese films of the 1980s, A Girl in Summer immediately announced Vítor Gonçalves (b. 1951) as the foremost director of his generation. A moody and atmospheric portrait of a young woman unable to make the crucial decisions needed to move forward with her life, A Girl in Summer is also a fascinating portrait of post-Salazar youth culture. A senior professor at the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema, Gonçalves now occupies the position of Reis, his former teacher.