104 minutes

It's extremely likely that Pedro Filipe Marques' debut feature will be almost inintelligible to foreign viewers who are not aware of Portuguese mores and history - and yet, the kernel of humanity that lies inside this alternatingly infuriating, heartwarming and hilarious observational piece is so common as to be universal. Armando and Fernanda, the two elderly residents of an Oporto tower block flat, are like any other elderly couple whiling away their twilight years: he tinkers around the house, she does the housework and shops for groceries, they watch TV or read the newspaper, both hardly ever step outside their self-contained, self-created bubble.

     What makes all the difference is that the Cunha couple are taken as a microcosm of the Portuguese working-class experience - as seen through the film's debut with a music box playing the Internationale. Armando is an unreconstructed communist sympathizer, who visited Russia and remains in awe of the illusions created by the socialist states; Fernanda is a typical housewife fed a diet of soap operas and scandal news and more interested in the comings ans goings on her street than in politics. Together, their vision of the world is the same as that of hundreds of thousands of Portuguese who came of age during the Salazar regime or the heady years that followed the 1974 revolution, in a collision course with contemporary celebrity culture and self-serving ignorance. And yet, Mr. Marques is never mean, haughty or cynical about his subjects; he simply lays out their combination of street smarts and naïveté to paint an affectionate portrait of a certain Portuguese experience.

     That Mr. Marques is the grandson of the Cunhas may explain the access granted to the camera, as well as the tendency to let some scenes go on for too long (the version screened was a 104-minute workprint, trimmed by 15 minutes for the final cut) - but it's a relief that there is no nepotism in sight and, when the result is as sparklingly insightful as this is, a slight case of overlength is no problem at all.

Director, camera (in colour) and sound, Pedro Filipe Marques; produced by Inês Gonçalves, Mr. Marques; film editors, Mr. Marques, Tomás Baltazar.
     A Noland Films presentation/production.
     Screened: DocLisboa 2011 advance screener, Lisbon, October 16th 2011. 


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