The Intervals series, which screens recent film work, welcomes one of the most arresting and poetic feature-length films in recent years, The Portuguese Woman by Rita Azevedo Gomes (Lisbon, 1952), a director who prolongs that constant tension between experimentation and narrative film-making in her work. In this particular film, Azevedo demonstrates how historical period cinema can be reconsidered through an avant-garde lens, putting forward, at the same time, a powerful feminist argument related to the present day.
The Portuguese Woman is a story of waiting, a period of time in which life dissipates. Set in the Middle Ages, the film recounts the eleven years that Lady von Ketten, an aristocrat of Portuguese origin who has recently married, spends waiting for her husband, who has left to fight against the Bishop of Trent in northern Italy. Ultimately, a protracted confinement, forced by the wars of men for power and religion, in which life passes by.
The story originates from Robert Musil’s tale Die Portugiesin (The Portuguese Lady), included in Three Women (1924), with a screenplay adapted by Agustina Bessa-Luís, one of the twentieth century’s pre-eminent Portuguese writers. The film is set against the backdrop of original landscapes and buildings — now ruins — described in the story; only the wardrobe is period, while the scenes are composed in a tableaux-vivant, in living pictures, employed by Azevedo to theatrically recreate and distance the past, exploring in more depth the relationships between film, painting and early music. Throughout the film, the enigmatic and anachronistic encroachment of a contemporary Ingrid Caven — the spouse of Rainer W. Fassbinder and an actress in some of his films — reminds us that, despite everything, any narrative is always artifice. Essentially, The Portuguese Woman is an achingly beautiful and fragile poetic exercise which approaches historical period cinema through the ethical and formal concerns of contemporary cinema.
Rita Azevedo Gomes has produced a film corpus that addresses the correspondence between film and writing, and the fleeting relationship between life and all forms of representation. Her work draws on today’s foremost Portuguese film-makers, such as Manoel de Oliveira, Antònio Reis and João César Monteiro, at the same time as it delves into the history and theory of the medium through João Bénard da Costa, an essayist and previously director of Portugal’s Cinematheque, and with whom Azevedo worked for a number of years. At the Cinematheque, she has worked as a programmer and has been in charge of its publications for over thirty years, a job she still combines today with her film work. This duality, between creation and a reflection on the medium, runs through her films.
Rita Azevedo Gomes. The Portuguese Woman
Portugal, 2018, colour, original version in Portuguese, German and French, with Spanish subtitles, B-R, 136’
Session 1. Thursday, 12 September 2019 – 7pm
Session 2. Saturday, 14 September 2019 – 6pm
Presented by the film’s director, Rita Azevedo Gomes