Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mudar de Vida / Change of Life

Change One's Life. PT 1966. D: Paulo Rocha. This print 95 min. A Cinemateca Portuguesa print with e-subtitles in English viewed at Cinema Lapinsuu, Sodankylä (Midnight Sun Film Festival), 15 June 2013

Masterclass with José Manuel Costa, introduced by Peter von Bagh.

Peter von Bagh: "José Manuel Costa has worked for decades in leading posts of the famously excellent Portuguese Film Archive and also in various international cinema-related positions. What is essential in our view is that he is a remarkable film critic with the soul of a cinephile. Of the two areas close to Costa's heart - documentary, Portuguese cinema - we have chosen the latter, because so little of it is known in Finland. So, thanks to José Manuel Costa we now have the privilege to present wonderful director Paulo Rocha (1935-2012) and one of his greatest works, Mudar de vida (Change of Life, 1966)." (PvB)

The Festival Catalogue: "Paulo Rocha, (1935-2012) who passed away last December, was one of the leading figures in the Portuguese Cinema Novo movement (1963-1974). Change of Life, Rocha's second full feature is meant as a response to Manoel de Oliveira's Acto da Primavera (1963). The film observes and captures the life of the remote fishing village Furadouro, where a veteran of the Angolan war returns home to a changed world."
   "Rocha cleverly combines documentary form with melancholic poetry. Dressed in the many shades of gray, Change of Life shares many visual aspects not only with the British 1950/60 Kitchen Sink movies but also with the dreamy, mysterious landscapes of Dreyer's Vampyr. As a stylized, archaic depiction of work and everyday life, the film also resembles the Visconti classic The Earth Trembles, as well as many of the works of Vittorio De Seta, a guest at the Midnight Sun Film Festival in 2007."
   "A number of local villagers are cast as themselves, but among them we see also the work of professional actors such as Isabel Ruth, who subsequently became a recurring face in de Oliveira's films. This illusionless movie with a strong sense of nature has become a classic of Portuguese cinema. The impact of Change of Life can now, for example, be witnessed in the works of a newer master, Pedro Costa."
(Lauri Timonen)
José Manuel Costa gave an enthusiastic presentation of Mudar de Vida.

"Paulo Rocha died during the very last days of last year. Since his debut feature film he was a key figure in Portuguese cinema, in the European film heritage. He was a friend with Glauber Rocha who led a parallel movement in Brazil. The leading actor of Mudar de Vida had also had the lead in Glauber Rocha's Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol / Black God White Devil; in Mudar de Vida he was dubbed by a Portuguese actor."

"Born in Porto, Paulo Rocha studied law and went to Paris where he studied at the IDHEC in 1959-1962. It was the key moment of la Nouvelle Vague, but Rocha had already been influenced by other things more than Godard and Truffaut, he had a wider sphere of influence including Renoir, Grémilllon, and Becker."

[Porto, in Portuguese also spelled as o Porto, or Oporto. It means "the port", and it is the root of the name of the country of Portugal. Also port wine is named after Porto. Porto lies in the valley of the river Douro.]

"Italian cinema, even Italian popular cinema, influenced Rocha. He was also close to the classical influence of Lang and Dreyer. He was attracted to the Japanese cinema, too, and for him Japan was also "my country". He went to Japan in 1975 and stayed for almost a decade as a cultural attaché. His movie A Ilha dos Amores / The Isle of Love was inspired by the Portuguese writer Wenceslau de Moraes who went to Japan and died there."

"Paulo Rocha directed the very first Novo Cinema movie, Verdes Anos / The Green Years. It was the era of the dictatorship of Salazar, and there was some kind of a film industry and a film movement. The 1950s had been a difficult decade; little film production existed. Now it was the beginning of a new world, and the cultivated Rocha was one of the leaders. In Paris he had frequented the mythical La Cinémathèque française, and he had come back with a new sense of a flim culture."

"Rocha's second film was very different. Verdes Anos had been shot in urban Lisbon. In Mudar de Vida, again, Rocha was set to tell a story about a man who doesn't fit - about a man who comes back and doesn't fit anymore."

"It all started with an idea of a place, a fishermen's place. Coming from Oporto, Rocha had come to see the fishermen as working heroes, big guys with their big boats, which were very hard to handle. The era of such boats was coming to an end. There is a documentary side in this movie. Although Rocha is a fiction director, he was also inspired to do anthropological research."

"The movie was shot in the Douro valley, and it showed the actual work of the fishermen during a time of transition, when there was already a bit of a crisis in the traditional profession. There were no jobs in agriculture, and industrialization was still in its early stages. The dictatorship meant censorship, and the very first thing affected was reality, which could be shown only in an indirect way, via ellipsis, via metaphor."

"Adelino, the protagonist, comes from military service in Africa. Contemporary viewers knew that he comes from the war in Angola in 1961, from fighting the liberation movement. The word 'war' was not uttered except in the Salazar propaganda. His mental state has changed in the war. He does not fit anymore."

"His love story has remained unfulfilled. His ex-fiancée Júlia (Maria Barroso) did not wait, and instead, has married Adelino's brother. Maria Barroso was a theatre actress, the wife of a Socialist leader, Mario Soares, who later became Prime Minister."

"Isabel Ruth, playing Albertina, had been the star of Rocha's first film. She had a dance career, and she was the main inspiration for Rocha. She was cast in the role of the new woman, the rebel, who does not accept the conditions, who wants to get out".

"The final line of dialogue: 'Let's stay, we still have our arms' was very significant. The question 'to stay - or to leave?' had a larger meaning."

"The key scene is the one where the fishermen try to catch the remains of a house by the seaside. It was a real thing, a real event, real scenery. The sea took so much. There is the old well which now looks like a chimney - things like that happened a lot. The dialogue concerns that key moment but is really also about something else, it is about the country which is like a shipwrecked people. The sequence of the people singing together in a very large circle has anthropological value."

"The Mudar de Vida score was composed by the Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes, our biggest ever guitar player, playing in the unique Portuguese style, different from the Spanish classical guitar."

"It is the portrait of a country, Portugal in the 1960s." (End of the José Manuel Costa introduction, notes by me).

A masterpiece, for me the finest discovery of this year's Midnight Sun Film Festival. With affinities with Visconti (La terra trema), Antonioni (Il grido), and Grémillon (Pattes Blanches), but fully original, a vision of landscapes familiar to the director Paulo Rocha since childhood, with contemporary relevance about a country in transition: facing a structural change from tradition to modernity, and from colonialism to liberation.

Mudar de Vida is a character-driven and a landscape-driven film. While the folkloristic value is great, the authentic detail is never decorative. The spirit of nobility and dignity is comparable to Visconti.

We have seen similar images of fishermen in films by Flaherty, Ruspoli, Perrault, and most recently by our own Kira Jääskeläinen, but Paulo Rocha has his own stark, rich approach in the scenes of the heavy boats being launched and trawls being pulled. "The sea is getting rougher, the catch is getting scarcer." The houses are collapsing by the seaside. There are no jobs in Portugal, and people are going to factories abroad.

The protagonist is a war invalid. He has experienced a severe jeep accident in the military service. His back is permanently injured, and he is no longer fit for heavy work in the trawlers. He faints, he falls ill.

There is a primitive chapel, a place of worship, and there Adelino meets for the first time Albertina, who has come to steal the collection (a connection with Risate di Gioia seen yesterday!). She works at a textile factory and has had an unhappy affair with an engineer. She has tried to commit suicide by jumping down a well. "I was born here but I'm a rolling stone. The world is a big place".

Also Julia has been suffering more than we can imagine (she has aged a lot in a few years), and on her deathbed she demands to be incinerated. "Make a huge bonfire on the beach, then forget".

The movie is about to become a story of fugitive lovers in the tradition of You Only Live Once and High Sierra, but Adelino and Albertina refuse to accept the outlaw status. They have nothing... except "a good pair of hands".

The cinematography by Elso Roque and Manuel Carlos da Silva is rich and powerful.

The print is superb.

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