102 minutes

Cisne is probably the greatest leap of faith in Portuguese arthouse mainstay Teresa Villaverde's leisurely career; only her sixth feature in twenty years, this was entirely self-produced with a minimal budget, which is probably appropriate for this most oblique of dramas about Vera (Beatriz Batarda), a night-owl singer who returns home in search of herself and finds more than she bargained for in both the musician she is madly in love with (Israel Pimenta) and the infatuted orphan she takes as her valet (Miguel Nunes).

     Ms. Villaverde's intensely personal, free-floatingly heightened universe finds the perfect interpreter in ms. Batarda, whose haunting performance as Vera seems to find some sort of shamanic communion with her director. Ms. Villaverde is known for drawing superlative performances from her female leads, but never in the previous five features has an actress achieved such a degree of empathy with both character and director, suggesting that Cisne is probably a lot more personal, maybe even cathartic, than even she realises. At the same time, the director's recurrent interest in endangered children and lost innocence – brought centre stage in 1998's Os Mutantes but present throughout her entire oeuvre – shows up awkwardly in a vaguely paedophile subplot that seems either tacked on to make an unrelated point or a remnant of an earlier script draft left for sentimental reasons; it's too present to be one of her trademark poetic digressions, but too slight to fit into the loosely structured portrait of a woman who unwittingly finds herself on the road to happiness.

     And, really, that is what Cisne is – an intermittently glorious, always intriguing portrait of a woman, sensitively if starkly handled and outstandingly performed by a superb actress. Altogether that's more than most arthouse films can claim these days, even if ms. Villaverde hasn't yet created the masterpiece she has been tantalising us with.

Starring Beatriz Batarda; Miguel Nunes, Israel Pimenta, Sérgio Fernandes, Tânia Paiva.
     Directed, produced and written by Teresa Villaverde; director of photography (colour, processing by Tobis Portuguesa), Acácio de Almeida; production designer, Zé Branco; costume designer, Sílvia Grabowski; film editor, Andrée Davanture.
     An Alce Filmes presentation/production, with the financial support from the Portuguese Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Lisbon City Hall. (Portuguese distributor and world sales, Alce Filmes.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Cinema City Classic Alvalade 2 (Lisbon), August 30th 2011. 


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