Saturday, December 24, 2011

SCN: Portugal's entry for Best Foreign Film, Miguel Gonçalves Mendes' JOSÉ & PILAR

What, you might ask, is Portugal's submission for the year's Best Foreign Language Film -- JOSÉ & PILAR -- doing as part of the FSLC's Spanish Cinema Now? TrustMovies certainly did. Granted, Portugal is right next to Spain on the map, but last he heard they constituted two different countries. Not only is this a Portuguese film, its director, Miguel Gonçalves Mendes, is Portuguese and so is his subject, José de Sousa Saramago, the Nobel-laureate novelist, poet, playwright and journalist. The movie's other half, Saramago's second wife Pilar del Río, however, is indeed Spanish, and so is one of the most prominent of the film's several producers, Agustín Almodóvar (Pedro's brother). Plus, the titular couple lived in Spain for quite some time. So I guess we'll let this one slip by.

For audience members, like me, uninitiated into the world of Saramago and del Río, the movie cannot help but be interesting, as there is so much to learn. But for those of us who know little of this award-winning writer's work, the film also proves unsatisfying, as we don't get to know all that much about it over the ensuing two hours and five minutes (for a current-times documentary, this is a long one). We get a little history of the pair, together and individually, as the filmmaker, shown at right, concentrates on their life together and how the two manage to help each other in various ways. Pilar is José's social secretary, and in one of the initial scenes, the pair (below) is shown RSVP-ing to various requests -- deciding to turn down one from the Dali Lama!

Saramago is a Communist (my kind of guy!), as well as anti-Church, so for some of us, he's an easy fellow to appreciate. In his 80s when the movie was filmed (the writer died last year at the age of 87), he still maintains a playfulness and fine sense of irony. One of his works for the theater is being given a reading by Gael García Bernal, and the conversation between them, as Bernal complains about the celebrity life, is amusing.

We get to see a bit of that theater piece (which sounds good), and later we hear Pilar's rant on the subject of "Basque is Spain!" Sometimes the filmmaker seems to be trying to give visual images to Saramago's works, but the overall effect is paltry, probably because this is not necessary.

There is plenty of archival footage (as per the above) of the twosome early-on, and even more of them in current times. José goes into hospital after an attack but returns home in time to be honored in his homeland of Portugal. Then Blindness -- Fernando Meirelles' movie version of Saramago's novel -- is shown at Cannes, opening to not terribly good reviews which compare the movie badly to its original source. "It's just as I wrote it," declares the novelist, giving the figurative finger to those critics. (TM thought Blindness was better than many critics gave it the credit of being.)

Toward the end, there is a very nice interview with Pilar, in which we finally get to hear what she thinks about various topics. Regarding the intersection of the streets now named for the pair, one newscaster suggests that all lovers should come there and kiss. Shot during the U.S. Presidential campaign in 2008, the movie makes clear that Saramago was pro-Obama, while del Río was a Clinton supporter. By the finale the poet and raconteur is looking mighty frail, no surprise.

José & Pilar, shown only twice during SCN, has no U.S. distributor so far as I know. (Hold the phone! According to the comment just in, see below, Outsider Pictures -- a company that has brought us some terrific little movies we would not have otherwise seen -- will release the film here this coming April, so my U.S. readers will indeed have the chance to view it.)  And because José & Pilar has been selected as Portugal's entry into the Best Foreign-Language Film "Oscar" sweeps, this release might add to its chances. I wouldn't put my money on the movie's making the final five nominees, but as the Academy has been known to surprise us on that score, we shall see.

2 comments:

Tiago Ramos said...

No, José and Pilar has US distributor. It's Outsider Pictures and the movie will be released at April 2012.

James van Maanen, said...

Thank you, Tiago -- I will amend my post immediately!