Thematic

THE PLAN TO CHANGE THE IMAGE: THE RESISTANCE CINEMA

by Francis Vogner dos Reis and Pedro Butcher

 

Now is the time for a paradigm shift in the imagetic world.

The cinema was constructed as an art of sequences, of splicing together pieces of film, and for years it held the monopoly on capturing and reproducing images. It's the art derived from the birth of the industrial capitalism, which started with a fascination with technology and its ability to reproduce life in motion. It's the art created by a beam of light crossing the darkness through a temple (the movie theater), like a modern day staging of Plato's cavern. The Cinema as the art of the negative, of the frame, of the grain, of the "revelation" in two senses of the word: the photochemical reaction that makes images appear as if by magic; and the image that reveals itself as the truth in Plato's philosophy.

This is the introduction to a process, which, in reality, has its roots in transformation.  If Cinema, on the one hand, has destroyed the aura of the unique work of art in favor of the mechanical reproduction, it has also created a new kind of aura; one less focused on the object, but more so on the combination of works (the movie) as a ritual (the dark room, the act of going to the movies), and a shared memory, be it emotional or collective (like the film culture born in the 20th century).

Actually, since the post-war years -which was the moment when the film culture consolidated itself (as a way of thinking, as a language and as pop culture) - the cinematographic image has beenlinked to the media culture in several ways, either by being contaminated by it or by criticizing (and in some cases even refuting) the usual devices present in the different types of moving images. The television, advertising and, most recently, the revolution led by the digital technology hasall radically changed the human attention span when it comes to looking at pictures.

Modern time has brought the radical democratization of the means of production, and shows a possible decentralization of the means of distribution and broadcasting (even if there’s still a strong opposition to this from the media conglomerateslooking for profit). Modern time also promotes an intense trivialization, which isn't new, but has gained new parameters with the digital image, its large-scale and long-reach. We live immersed in the reign of the image-lecture, the image that sells. A ubiquitous image that speaks constantly, but never says a thing. Blah blahblah.

One of the most blatant traits of this new reign is an overestimated sense of the commonplace storyline. "We want good stories", the film industry insists with unsettling intensity. Which seems contradictory, since what they appear to be after closely resembles a model and a formula to be sold (by the entertainment industry andthe conventionalart-house films alike), than, in fact, a pursuit to find new ways to tell a story. The industry needs a default format, it looks for formulas to enhance the efficacy of its greatest goal: to engage the public and guaranteeing a meaningful part of their free time. The idea of technical and narrative innovation is pursued less as a desire to discover new forms of expression and sensibility, and more as an affirmation of achievement in a market that despises what seems to the old and outmoded.

Faced with this new configuration of the film culture, how can we envision an image of resistance? Could this image still be the one that thinks of itself and creates itself as a scene, that is, as a unit of film length that contains an idea? Can it still be an image that doesn’t wish to sell anything; an image that goes against the current in the process of industrializing filmmaking, its demand and reception? What is this place of resistance? What are we resisting?

The term “resistance", in this case, should be considered in its openly political sense, in a fight against the widespread concept of art-commodity: an active resistance against the advertising effort and marketeering, which is saturating the movies today, a resistance against esthetic affectation and mechanization of a conventional system of film language. It's not by accident that "resistance" is the most important and central subject –from the political, poetic and physical perspective- of filmmakers DanièleHuillet and Jean-Marie Straub. The careful attention these two filmmakers regard what they film and how they film it; the single shot as a concrete unit and as dialectic of poetry. It's the cinema in an uncompromisingposition set in a reified world; a reflection of the present time looking back at the past, trying to understand the continuances of its horrors,as well as its cases of resistance.

The curious case of the Portuguese Cinema

Ever since we started to organize the CineBH International Film Festival in 2014, the Portuguese films have had a constant presence in our program. Year after year, productions from Portugal have surprised us with its rare combination of a formal structure mingled with their view of the world. For the most part, they synthesize the achievement of what we imagine to be the strongest quality of moviemaking: to materialize thought with an aesthetic power; a cinema that, perhaps, incorporates, somehow, this form of resistance about which we'd like to talk.

And yet, the film industry in Portugal is a small movement, whose economic weight and cultural influence are scant. This admiration of ours with Portuguese films, in addition to the statement on their meager activity in the country, has raised a question: what does the Portuguese film has, and what can we learn from it?[1]

A possible hypothesis for this concentration of quality could be exactly in this lack of commitment to the so-called "market". It's not that the absence of an industry per say is a particularly positive or negative factor. Strong industries can offer fertile soil for the creation and renewal of talented people. The cinema as a business is a reality, whether it's Hollywood and its industry (fueled by capital and aggressive lobby), or if it's a national film production trying, or wishing, to occupy a bigger portion of their domestic markets, sometimes risking the models of commercial success, which not always pan out. The market for more selective films (not to use the generic terms "art", cultural", "authorial"), with a more segmented commercial characteristics, are released in international film festivals such as Cannes, Venice, Locarno, Rotterdam, Sundance, among others.

The thirst for novelties in the contemporary cinema creates an agenda that takes less into account the film and its aesthetic propositions, and privileges the pursuit for novelty, for new "authors" or for films that have features that could express the satisfaction of the "contemporary concerns." A temporal paradigm is imposed; the contemporary, that which is born limited and dated.

That's why it's so interesting to look at the film production in Portugal, a cinema that it's at the same time current and obsolete. How can such a small and discrete country be known for a cinema that, despite having few products, has been producing strong movies with great aesthetic diversity?

The identity of the Portuguese films is related to their idea of filmmaking, which does not aspire to be a big spectacle or a commercial success. And that's how it survives. The best tradition of the Portuguese cinema is connected to the modern cinema, in its relationship with the figure of the author director, and in its bountiful dialogue with Art History and Cinema History. It's a cinema made by a culture that has formal and poetic issues with a long historic coverage and an aesthetic sensibility that has shown some continuity.

Those who follow closely the small Portuguese film community can recognize the role of its film archives (and the role of, the now deceased, but great critic, JoãoBénard da Costa) in the propagation and discussion of film, and in the quality of its publications.  The influential role of the Cinematheque, also defined as a "film museum", is precisely the exercise and protection of their culture.

By reading and listening to the filmmakers, who noticeably have intimate knowledge of classic and modern films, they go against the image-merchandize, so well represented by television and the Braziliantelenovelas, which, as we know, have a strong presence in Portugal. Cinema would be a record of the imagination and poetry, a rare, if not only, way of resistance in a time when everything - from blockbusters to author films –have become commodities.

The filmmakers

Portugal has a discreet film tradition, but with a strong body of accomplished filmmakers. It's interesting how hard it is to place them in the latest trends of the international contemporary cinema. We see in their film a certain resistance to image tampering and devices (with the partial, and problematic, exception, of Miguel Gomes), and, going against the tide, a love for 'density-aeration' dialectics of the film plane, an intense, and sometimes arduous, relationship with the word and time; as well as the refusal of any trace of light entertainment. As the critic Antônio Rodrigues wrote in the catalogue of the “Brasil-Portugal: Travessias de Cinema”: "each of these films is thought as a unique object that doesn't obey pre-established laws." None of their filmmakers wanted to make a film-product, they all have the ambition to create an irreplaceable object."

A very suggestive example is how filmmaker Pedro Costa uses esthetic considerations to talk about the films themselves, films that seem a little antiquated for someone up to date. He seems more at ease discussing his films from DW Griffith, John Ford and Charles Chaplin point of view, than taking part in the aesthetic debates of our time - which often take their movies as subjects. This aesthetic perspective guided by the lively dialogue with artists, works and issues of the past, asserts a singular point of view of our time, and it's is also the perspective of filmmakers Manuel Mozos, JoãoBotelho and Rita Azevedo Gomes, all of whom have works, which are, at the same time, well-educated and sensitive, they seem to draw an intense and close relationship with the very idea of art, history and dramaturgy.

There are other very distinct filmmakers who have released relevant films such as Teresa Villaverde, Victor Gonçalves, João Pedro Rodrigues, Salomé Lamas and Joaquim Pinto. Until a few years ago, we had at the head of this line filmmakers of the caliber of Paulo Rocha, João César Monteiro and Manoel de Oliveira.

North

This curious composition of the Portuguese cinema was on our minds when started to devise the program for the 10th edition of the CineBH International Film Festival. We were looking for movies that in some way carry that same independent vision, the same aesthetic rigor. We were true to our intent to amplify the parameters of our search, looking not only for movies released in the last few years, but also those that, for whatever reason, were overlooked by the big film festivals and the art film showings.

Our praise of the Portuguese cinema is made evident in the retrospective dedicated to João Cesar Monteiro (1934-2003), a giant in the art of filmmaking, author of movies encrusted with beauty, humor and intellectual stimulation. It's also evident in the tribute to Paulo Rocha, another great Portuguese moviemaker (perhaps a little less acknowledged and celebrated than Monteiro and Manoel de Oliveira, but of equal importance), where we'll exhibit O Rio do Ouro (River of Gold, 1998) and Se eu fosse ladrão... roubava (If I Were a Thief... I'd Steal, 2013), his last work.

In the Contemporary Exhibition, the Portuguese cinema is represented by the new feature films of filmmakers Salomé Lamas (Eldorado XXI) and Rita Avezado Gomes (Correspondências), and also by the short-films of LuísaSequeira (Oscravos e a rocha) and Joana Pimenta (Um campo de aviação). But its scent also lingers in other films, produced by different countries, including Brazil - like Rifle, by DaviPretto, and Acidade do futuro, by Marília Hughes and Claudio Marques, both films interact beautifully with Pedro Costa's films, for example.  

We've also remained true to our wish to give due importance to the ever-present historical perspective and to making connections with the past through the "Historical Dialogues" showings, which brings this year the illustrious Adriano Aprà, one of the authorities in film philosophy. Aprà has chosen to comment on three films: Kenji Mizoguchi’sCrisântemostardios (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, 1939), Michelangelo Antonioni’s O eclipse (L’Eclisse, 1962), andCarl Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964).  

 Francis Vogner dos Reis and Pedro Butcher
Curators for the CineBH International Film Festival

curadores
Francis Vogner dos Reis and Pedro Butcher
Photo: Leo Lara/Universo Produção

[1]Here are a few numbers. Portugal has 547 movie theaters, while France, for example, has 5,7 thousands, and its neighbor, Spain, has 3,5 thousand. Even accounting for the area of each country, the disproportion is impressive. In 2015, 14,6 million tickets were sold in Portugal – in France, 205,3 million; in Spain, 94,6 million. While France makes over 300 films a years to reach 35% share in the market, in Portugal, 23 domestic feature films were released in 2015, of those only 11 were fiction. The market share of Portuguese films was 6,5%. Another interesting fact: out of the 10 most watched movies in Portugal last year, none sold over one million tickets (the leader was the animation feature Minions, with 795 thousand audience; O pátio das cantigas, the sole Portuguese production in the top 10, was in the third place with 606 thousand tickets. Source: European Audiovisual Observatory (www.obs.coe.int).

Portugal last year, none sold over one million tickets (the leader was the animation feature Minions, with 795 thousand audience; O pátio das cantigas, the sole Portuguese production in the top 10, was in the third place with 606 thousand tickets. Source: European Audiovisual Observatory (www.obs.coe.int).