Constelação #5: Vai e dá-lhes trabalho...
Daniel Ribas and Paulo Cunha
May 15, 2024

In the history of Portuguese cinema, the illusion that the "Portuguese comedies" of the 1930s and 1940s were our "golden age" has been repeated time and again. And if recent studies prove that these comedies, so close to "revue" humour, weren't so popular in their time, some unsuspecting voices, such as António Ferro himself, the mastermind of Salazarism's propaganda strategy, acknowledged this frustration by referring to these comedies as "the cancer of national cinema". For the next two decades, neorealism and modern cinema placed comedy in a kind of prophylactic quarantine, placing upon it the anathema of a cursed genre that defrauded the Vincentian intention of not punishing the customs propagated by fascist ideology.

But then, one April morning, everything changed and comedy gradually regained its function of social regulation. After the first revolutionary glow and a certain obsession with filming the "here and now", several filmmakers recovered their desire to "play with serious things" and to expose the reality that had been hidden or stolen from us during the "long night" of fascism.

Inspired by a memorable phrase addressed to João de Deus, a character played by João César Monteiro, this constellation invites a review of "Lusitanian comedies" (subtitle of Recordações da Casa Amarela [1989]), presenting films that approach comedy in a paradoxical and inventive way, often through refined irony or a more corrosive tone. From the chosen menu, we decided to start with Artur Semedo's satirical anti-historical nonsense in O Rei das Berlengas (1978), which began shooting in November 1975. This foray into the historicist heritage propagated by Estado Novo was part of a post-revolutionary trend (with A Confederação [1977], Veredas [1978] or O Barão de Altamira [1986]) that proposed a critical revisiting of the founding myths and legends of Portuguese identity.

We continue our tasting with the comic, verbalised through aphorisms made famous by João César Monteiro, in the first declared "Lusitanian comedy" with a tragic tone, which follows the wanderings of João de Deus, a freelance who becomes a vagabond, later a master ice-cream maker and finally an aristocrat. Recordações da Casa Amarela is the first of the famous Trilogia de Deus (A Comédia de Deus [1995] and As Bodas de Deus [1999]), one of the great moments in Portuguese cinematography and a caustic look at the democratisation of Portuguese society and a certain Lisbon of the 1980s and 90s. João de Deus would make his last appearance as João Vuvu in the filmmaker's last film, Vai e Vem (2003).

The next session combines the jocular tone of Joana Toste's animation with João Botelho's decadent portrait in a parody of the "Lusitanian testosterone" that perpetuates a certain "marialvism" and "smart aleckism" persistently cultivated by popular culture. If Toste represents a certain light humour in contemporary Portuguese animation, Botelho is a descendant of a certain irony related to the character João de Deus, but also to the refined humour of our master, Manoel de Oliveira. Botelho was inspired by literary verve, but brought it closer to a more immediate reality, focusing on a certain intestinal corruption in our society.

The short stories are the motto of a session presenting four films from the "new values" of Portuguese cinema at the time (the late 1990s and the emergence of Gerações Curtas): the meta-discursive tone and cinephile references of Cinemamor (2000), self-denounced by a secondary character ("If it was in a film, no one would believe it? "); Margarida Cardoso's premonitory suggestion in Dois Dragões (1996) to look at ourselves through the eyes of others, which would later recur in her work; Pedro Caldas's bittersweet tone in O Pedido de Emprego (2000), whose variable dynamics peel the character like an onion; and the candour of Inês de Medeiros's black humour in Senhor Jerónimo (1998), which proves that even death can't escape humour.

Lastly, the final moment of this constellation brings together two kitsch records separated by decades that are similar in their ironic tone (and also in the centrality of the museum space in both narratives): Fernando Lopes' mannered caricature, which paints a scathing portrait of Lisbon's "little rogues", still hostage to the Belarmino's stigma ("he could have been a great champion, but..."); and Gabriel Abrantes' meticulous valorisation of the farces of reality, always more surprising than fiction itself, something recurrent and transversal in his cinematographic work. If Crónica dos Bons Malandros (1984) is a prototype of popular cinema, A Brief History of Princess X (2016) incorporates the ironic stratagems of a certain artist's cinema of the new century.

This constellation aims to help rediscover and rehabilitate comedy in Portuguese cinema as a fundamental tool for making us laugh at ourselves, exposing our faults and vices, and convincing us that laughter is still good medicine. Remembering many films by other authors that have been left out for the time being - José Fonseca e Costa (Kilas, O Mau da Fita [1980] or A Mulher do Próximo [1988]), Manoel de Oliveira (A Caixa [1994]), Solveig Nordlund and Jorge Silva Melo (E não se pode exterminá-lo? [1979]), Miguel Gomes (Kalkitos [2002]) or Margarida Lucas (A Sagrada Família [2019]), among many others, this constellation is once again an invitation to discover Portuguese cinema, which is all too often unknown and misunderstood.

Daniel Ribas

Researcher, film programmer and critic, he is an Assistant Professor at the School of Arts of the Portuguese Catholic University, where he coordinates the Master's Degree in Cinema. He is Director of CITAR - Centre for Research in Science and Technology of the Arts. He has curated several film programmes, namely for Porto/Post/Doc, where he was a member of the Artistic Board between 2016 and 2018. He is currently the programme director of Curtas Vila do Conde IFF. He has a PhD in Cultural Studies from the Universities of Aveiro and Minho and writes about Portuguese cinema, contemporary and experimental cinema.

Paulo Cunha

Paulo Cunha works in research, programming and film criticism. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Beira Interior, where he is Director of the MA in Cinema and Vice-President of the Arts Department. He is an integrated member of LabCom - Comunicação e Artes and a collaborator with CEIS20 - Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Coimbra and INCT Rede Proprietas. He is currently a programmer for Curtas Vila do Conde and the Guimarães Film Club. He holds a PhD in Contemporary Studies from the University of Coimbra and writes about Portuguese cinema, decolonial studies, film criticism and culture.

Batalha Centro de Cinema

Praça da Batalha, 47
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