Leonor Areal is the author of a two-volume book on "Portugal an imagined country", where she gives a retrospective on the course of three decades of Portuguese cinema. A historical and documented look at the difficulties of the national cinematography, in a period of great censorship and meager means.
How to define the cinema that was made in Portugal in the 40's, 50's and 60's?
Leonor Areal: Portuguese cinema throughout the ages has evolved a lot. The 1940s is an era full of comedies that are still famous today, despite everything it is a cinema that exists during a major crisis in Europe, which was the war. Portugal does not enter in the conflict, tries to avoid it and then this cinema is called escapist, people wanted to escape from reality and relieve their suffering, hence the comedies.
But were people really going to the cinema to see these movies? There is the idea that as it was the cinema of the regime and was unpopular.
LA: They were not associated to the regime, they were independent productions of cinema entrepreneurs, with the approval of the regime. It was not the state to finance film productions, it only began in 1948, when the national film fund (NFF) was created to support Portuguese productions. In fact, there was talk at the time of creating Spanish co-productions with a view to entering the South American market, it was started, but it did not continue because of the economic conditions was not allow, there was a civil war in Spain, then the second great war, however, there was some support to subsidized films. What happened was that the NFF only financed four or five productions per year, made with many difficulties, in the 1940s. This state support is in the end being a bottleneck for other productions that were paralyzed. In the 1950s the subsidies that had been created were suspended. It's like now, there's no money and you save yourself for other occasions, in this case I'm making a parallel, but there's the year of 1955 when no film is produced, it was zero year. However, there is a director, who is the only neorealist who despite the limitations makes films about the people with some realism and it is inspired by Italian cinema, Manuel de Guimarães. He made three films, "Os saltimbancos" in 1951, "Nazaré" in '52 and 'Lives without direction', which went until 1956 with many difficulties, because it did not correspond to what the New State allowed, the expectations of merchants and censorship was very hard with this film, for all this and more, Guimarães ends up giving up neorealism and only many years later he returns to the author's cinema.
And in the 60's?
LA: At this stage comes another generation that can make films out of the system, but without openly opposing, like Manuel Guimarães. It is a very important movement, because it is an aesthetic and cultural revolution, it is a cinema that evolves a lot until the year of 1974, even so, with some prohibited films. Then, we have the April revolution and the cinema is free, after 1974 explodes the Portuguese movies, there are no longer current’s with only one meaning and there are great cinematic experiences with enormous financial constraints, as still exist today.
You focused on public financial support for the audiovisual sector, which, although it has changed its name several times over the years, is accused of having almost always supported the same filmmakers.
LA: I do not agree with that opinion, that's what the filmmakers all say, I do not know any director who does not complain bitterly that did not have any support. But when we have 100 dogs and 10 bones, what happens? There are ten satiated and the rest starve. It is, of course, that some on their own merits have curriculum and success and these advantages are accounted for the contests, this is because there must be a method. These competitions have juries recognized, have minutes and period of complaints, that is, they are done in a correct way, although lately there have been some changes that displease the authors, because they benefit the televisions. This statement lacks documentary confirmation, because it is said by the losers. Since the creation of the Film and Audiovisual Institute there is more support, but even so, there is little money, it is reduced in budgetary terms. Nowadays, there are more filmmakers, with another type of media, the technical part and the cameras are cheaper, the base is no longer film is digital, but there is one aspect that holds that it is the cost of work, people continue to need to be paid, although there are many who do it for free, which is an injustice, because no one eats for free.
And do you notice that in terms of film trends?
LA: I do not have the capacity to carry out this evaluation, I have done this monitoring with some historical distance, but I notice that Portuguese cinema has an immense outlet and international success.
But there is talk of Portuguese cinema in the context of the festivals and not in the movie theater’s.
LA: Portugal is a small country, never a movie can be paid at the box office, unless it's a big hit and there are certain film projects that do, because they are fun, have music, songs and are funny. They are not movies that reflect thought, or the more arduous conditions of life, and people are not always willing to go to the movies to suffer the evils of humanity. It is, of course, that being a country of only 10 million people we do not have movie theaters that make the cost of a movie. The national cinema will never have this constant commercial success, except exceptionally and then we only made films for the box office, hence there is support for the art of cinema, because as it must be done with a lot of people, it needs more money. Now, if we do not make movies what will become of us, in historical terms, 50 years from now? It will be a void, as in the year 1955, and what little we have of these epochs is very valuable as the memory of an era, no matter how small or bad, it is the only one we have, and it is precious. That's what old cinema and everything we have today turns out to be important, because it's a visual memory of an era, of how our problems were, our ambitions and how we lived, so we must make movies today. This is the role of cinema as the art that comes closest to the record of human life, its experiences and memories and the best way to make a trip to the past is through this record. Portuguese films just do not have a bigger market, because in Brazil they do not understand the way we talked and there is this strange aspect in which there is no exchange, because we also do not see Brazilian cinema, there is no bilateral relationship that is so strange.