The Portuguese Woman (A Portuguesa)
When discussing the possibility of a sequel to the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror, writer Charlie Brooker suggested that any continuation might appear in another form, such as a graphic novel or – as he vaguely words it – “an experience”. The Portuguese Woman (A Portuguesa), from director Rita Azevedo Gomes, is certainly an experience, though it’s not one that is necessarily best-suited for a cinema.
Opening like a piece of experimental theatre with a singing narrator (Ingrid Caven, who makes sporadic further appearances), the film begins as it means to continue. Sometimes for better, and often for worse, there is something undeniably theatrical about the whole affair. Actors move into frame, recite their lines with varying levels of conviction, and then move out of shot. The frame in question rarely moves, resulting in a deliberately static presentation much like a tableau. The titular Portuguese woman (Clara Riedenstein, with an appropriately regal bearing) journeys to her new home in Italy with her new husband Von Ketten (Marcello Urgeghe). He then promptly leaves her to return to the battlefront, and she is largely left to her own devices for the next eleven years.
Despite the feature’s fairly linear narrative, audiences might be hard-pressed to recall the significance and order of certain events as soon as the credits roll, and it’s almost as though sequences could be interchanged without any compromise to the fairly esoteric story. Yes, it’s a film, but it feels as though The Portuguese Woman could be an art installation, with viewers free to wander in and out as they please. The piece can be definitively filed under arthouse, to the point of being inaccessible to many audience members. There’s a sense of detachment from the onscreen proceedings which can be difficult to overcome.
To her credit, Azevedo Gomes has created something akin to visual poetry from the novella by Robert Musil, and the sumptuous imagery can be curiously mesmerising. If only this sensation could be sustained throughout the film. It’s likely to be a polarising piece, both transfixing and sedating audiences in equal measures.
The Portuguese Woman (A Portuguesa) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.