Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
France/Portugal, 2012. Alfama Films, Clap Filmes, France 3 Cinéma. Screenplay by Carlos Saboga. Cinematography by Andre Szankowski. Produced by Paulo Branco. Music by Jorge Arriagada. Production Design by Isabel Branco. Costume Design by Lucha d’Orey. Film Editing by Luca Alverdi, Valeria Sarmiento.
Raul Ruiz was in pre-production of this epic examination of Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1810 when he passed away at the age of 70, prompting producers to hire his wife Valeria Sarmiento to complete it. It’s a multi-tiered exploration of characters high and low experiencing the devastation of war as the French army ravages the Portuguese countryside and its people. Among those affected are a soldier from the home team who escapes hospital and depends on the kindness of strangers, an elderly woman (Marisa Paredes, the film’s standout performance) who fortifies herself in her home as long as she can, an Englishwoman raised in the country who gives herself quite easily to men and, at the centre of it all, the Duke of Wellington (John Malkovich) and his military maneuvers. Cameos by a host of other famous actors appear, including Isabelle Huppert, Michel Piccoli and Catherine Deneuve as a family also refusing to leave their Lisbon home, and Chiara Mastroianni as a French soldier, in a film whose detail is extraordinary but whose overall effect is rather cold. The theatrical version of the film, which runs around 150 minutes, is a condensed version of a much longer miniseries whose loss of detail is definitely felt here. Sarmiento is true to her husband’s writing but does not possess his ability to weave in and out of a variety of time and space with the same fluidity that he always managed with a sense of magical enigma (witness Time Regained). The film is informative and intelligent but not emotionally striking, and leaves one wishing they were at least watching the full version in order to find out more about the people whose lives are only touched upon here.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2012
Venice Film Festival: In Competition