97 minutes

Portuguese documentarian Susana de Sousa Dias returns, after her 2005 feature debut Natureza Morta, to what she sees as the crux of contemporary Portuguese history - the totalitarian regime of António de Oliveira Salazar that endured for 48 years, from 1926 to 1974. Those 48 years give the film its somewhat misleading title, since it is about only a fragment of that near half-century of life under a stifling dictatorship: the struggle of the political activists, mostly (but not exclusively) with the then-illegal Communist Party, who were imprisoned and tortured by the secret police.
48 weaves together the memories of two dozen survivors to create a sense of foreboding and disquiet, an approximation to the mood of what it was like to live in such difficult times. It does so by entering a philosophical, quasi-experimental realm; matching its desire to make us remember and understand a forgotten pan of recent history with a stunningly conceptual approach that retains only the voices of the survivors, superimposed over static mugshots taken of each speaker either on entering or leaving jail - an approach not dissimilar to the visual manipulation of archival material essayed by Ms. Sousa Dias in her previous feature, but here taken to a new, radical limit.
The result is immensely powerful, often disturbing and a true immersive experience. 48 becomes essentially an oral history amplified by the absence of any sort of imagery other than the mugshots (and, on one occasion, a particularly outstanding long take of darkness), suggesting a sense of kinship with Claude Lanzmann and Marcel Ophüls' epoch-making documentaries on the Holocaust: how do you film the unfilmable, show the unshowable? Ms. Sousa Dias' answer, as simple as it is radical, as powerful as it is disarming, is simply to do neither. She just lets the words do all the talking. And, in doing so, signs nothing short of a masterpiece.

Directed and written by Susana de Sousa Dias; produced by Ansgar Schäfer; director of photography (black and white), Octávio Espírito Santo; film editors, ms. Sousa Dias with Helena Alves; sound design, António de Sousa Dias.
A Kintop presentation/production; with the support of Ministério da Cultura-Instituto do Cinema e Audiovisual and Rádio e Televisão de Portugal. (Portuguese distributor, Alambique. World sales, Kintop.) 
Screened: distributor advance press screening, Cinema City Classic Alvalade 2 (Lisbon), March 25th 2011. 


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