Category Archives: Portugal

Women (1997)

“They’re lesbians. They’re all lesbians.”

Elles (AKA Women) explores the long-term relationships between 5 women who are all on the brink of turning 50. Coping with issues such as romance & sex, motherhood, loneliness, aging and death, the five women realize that the choices they make at 50 are different from the choices made decades ago.

The story is wrapped around anchorwoman Linda’s (Carmen Maura) quest to discover the secret wishes of her four closest friends. We realize–although Linda doesn’t–that her interest in the secret wishes of women is really an expression of her own doubt and internal conflict. Planning on creating a programme focusing on what women wish for, she interviews her friends, Eva (Miou Miou), Barbara (Marthe Keller), Branca (Guesch Patti) and Chloe (Marisa Berenson). Capturing the women’s secret wishes on camera, Linda reveals moments of vulnerability that don’t show on the surface of everyday life.

None of the five women are married, and while men aren’t exactly superfluous here, the film places its male characters of the periphery. Aging chanteuse Branca makes a career out of bedding men and adding another notch onto her belt. While she professes a love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude, getting dumped at her age hurts her pride more than she anticipated, and in the meantime she ignores the mental problems endured by her troubled daughter.

Eva, who’s a widow, a professor and the mother of a small son, becomes embroiled in a steamy affair with one of her male students (who’s also Barbara’s son). While she’d love to suspend the almost triple-decade difference in age, can she? Should she?

Barbara is divorced from her optometrist husband. While he’s engaged in a relationship with a much younger woman, Barbara still wants him back. Martha Keller’s beautifully restrained performance steals the film, and the scene in which Barbara meets her husband’s new love interest was priceless.

Linda is very focused on her career, and long-time lover Gigi (Joaquim de Almeida) is forced to take a back seat–often with humiliating results. Eventually Linda is forced to make some painful choices.

The fifth woman in the group is Chloe, Linda’s make-up artist. She’s a quiet, solitary, self-contained woman with a haunted past.

Although this is a film built around the relationships between five women, the film’s main focus is the desires women have and how those desires sometimes conflict and must be suspended or replaced. One of the issues explored by the film is what happens when women step out of the roles ascribed to them by their family members–for example, when Barbara becomes ill, her illness is largely ignored by her children who want her to remain in the eternal mother role–untouched by disease or any personal problems of her own. In contrast to Barbara is Branca. She’s abdicated from her parental role, dumping her daughter onto her aging parents.

Women is not one of those awful ‘sisterhood’ films; it’s a much smarter film than that. Does sisterhood exist in the film? Absolutely, but these women don’t end up hugging each other and exchanging giggly naughty confidences. These five women ultimately have their own paths to follow and their own choices to make. Set in Lisbon, Women is a drama from Portuguese director Luis Galvao Teles.

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Filed under Carmen Maura, Portugal

Capitaes de Abril (2000)

“Sometimes the only solution is to disobey.”

From first time director Maria de Medeiros Capitaes de Abril (aka Captains of April, Capitaines d’Avril ) is the story of the 1974 coup that overthrew the 40-year fascist dictatorship of Portugal. The story is told through the eyes of two young captains whose stories are pivotal to events.

capitaes de abrilThe film basically concentrates on a handful of characters including the two young captains Maia (Stefano Accorsi) and Manuel (Frederic Pierrot) who return from military service in Africa with the pact that they will never kill again. Major Gervasio (Joaquim de Almeida) who’s amused by the coup more than anything else goes along for the entertainment value.

The film follows Maia as he marches through Portugal with other soldiers and Manuel as he commandeers a radio station. Several scenes depict Maia’s influence on events–particularly the use of nonviolence in the coup (the PIDE did fire on and kill protestors). Manuel’s alienated wife Antonia (Maria de Medeiros) is oblivious to her husband’s involvement in the coup as she tries to extricate her left-wing lover from prison, torture, and the dreaded PIDE (Secret Police).

When Prime Minister Caetano finally surrenders, Maia “hands over” control to General Spinola (aka the Butcher), and Spinola refuses to negotiate with anyone beneath the rank of major. This scene shows how the old hierarchies remain, and while Portugal’s unpopular and expensive colonialization in Africa will end, the social order remains more or less the same.

Capitaes de Abril is vague on some issues, and concentrates on the Carnation Revolution by focusing on the actions of Maia and Manuel rather than trying to portray the strategy of the coup, those behind the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) or social conditions beforehand. The film does however make it clear that the Portuguese colonial war between Portugal’s military and various nationalist movements in African colonies was very unpopular and largely responsible for the Captains’ Movement and Carnation Revolution. The beginning of the film includes many black and white photos depicting the victims of Portugal’s attempts to squash African liberation groups. Almost half of Portugal’s annual budget went to fund the war in its Portuguese colonies, and Portugal suffered from astronomical inflation at the time–another contributing factor to the war’s unpopularity at home. And naturally since no one in their right minds wanted to volunteer to participate in these genocidal actions, conscription was enforced for up to four years, and conscripts could expect the most appalling conditions in Africa.

The war’s unpopularity at home is largely manifested in the film through the marriages and relationships of those forced to serve. Antonia, for example, feels that she and her husband became estranged thanks to his service in the Portuguese African Colonies, and the film makes a passing reference to Manuel’s diary in which he apparently mentioned that he had a relationship with an African woman. By the end of the film, the focus shifts to Antonia’s daughter and then the final scenes are played through her eyes.

In Portuguese with subtitles

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Filed under Political/social films, Portugal