Around Rocha’s Table (2021) Locarno Film Festival

August 8th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Samuel Barbosa; Documentary with Paulo Rocha, Manoel de Oliveira, Isabel Ruth, Marcia Briea; Portugal 2021, 94 min.

Samuel Barbarossa makes his feature debut here as director with this enlightening biopic raising the profile of Portuguese “Cine Nova” director Paulo Rocha (1935-2012) who blazed a trail with his brand of neo-realism in the Sixties and was later known for his rigorously classical films, although sadly neither found much of an audience outside his native Portugal (unlike the more illustrious Manoel de Oliveira – who also gets a look in here with a short interview).

Rocha grew up in Oporto where his close bond with his mother appears to have affected his emotional relationships with other women. After studying Law at the behest of his father, he soon turned to filmmaking enrolling at the famous famous IDHEC (Institute des Hautes Etudes Cinematographique) in Paris, where like many directors before and since he claims to have learnt more from “watching the films of Jean Renoir and Kenzo Mizoguchi than from his academic studies”.

Rocha idealised other male artists such as Manoel de Oliveira, setting him a monument in film with “Cinema de Notre Temps: “Oliveira – L”Architecte” (1993). Another obsession was his fascination with Japan, where he lived for a while. Again, his love of the country is crystalised in a male “Super Ego”: Wenceslau Moraes (1854-1929) to whom Rocha dedicated his 1982 feature A IIha dos Amores. It took him fourteen years to finish the feature set in Japan, not filming anything for over ten years. Rocha abandoned neo-realism and melodrama for a formal, classicist aesthetic. O Desejado(1988), adapted from “Tale of Genji” by the classical author Shikibu, is set in contemporary Portugal, but very much faithful to the original text.

Like Godard (Barbosa has named the production company for his documentary Bando à Parte) Rocha taking his inspiration from newspaper articles. Isabel Ruth and Marcia Briea, who starred in many of Rocha’s features, reports that Rocha went first on location hunting, before he thought about the narrative. “The story grows whilst I visit the locations.”

DoP Jorge Quintela deftly interweaves ‘Talking Heads’ enlivened by informative clips from Rocha’s oeuvre, Barbosa offering a balanced view of the director’s contribution and whetting our appetite to discover more about Rocha’s role in Portuguese Cinema, which has been overly dominated by Manoel De Oliveira. AS 


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