The inaugural weekend of the Harvard-Gulbenkian collaboration makes clear the central ambition and idea of our program: a radical rethinking and recontextualization of Portuguese cinema within the broader realm of world cinema. Against the still lingering critique of Portuguese cinema as marginal, artisan and willfully eccentric, we offer a contrary vision of a restless cinema engaged in a dynamic and expansive dialogue with the most innovative and important trends in world cinema. At the core of the Harvard-Gulbenkian program are a select group of Portuguese artists who have together defined a cinema of ideas through visionary films distinguished by their philosophical depth, poetic form and radical reinvention of cinematic traditions. These adventurous films, these daring gambits, are not the products of insular national tradition, but are instead the evidence of a profound connection with the most important transnational currents in world cinema today.
Our first program begins with one of the canonical works and masterpieces of the post-Salazar cinema, Trás-os-Montes by António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. A meditation on the slow time and strange infinity of legend and landscape, Trás-os-Montes crystallizes the notions of entropy and utopia upon which this program is focused. In Trás-os-Montes Reis and Cordeiro discovered the cinema as a unique tool for mapping the contours of a popular imagination and myth, equally legible in the lyrics of the songs and the craggy, truculent mountains. Reis and Cordeiro's poetic lyricism and radical intermingling of documentary and fiction clearly anticipate and offer a new vantage upon the work of the other two artists invited to this program, British experimental filmmaker Ben Rivers and the great Hungarian master director Béla Tarr.
A fellow time-traveler, Ben Rivers, like Reis and Cordeio, voyages to remote hinterlands in search of the voices that animate the lonely hills and mist enshrouded moors. Portraits of visionary hermits and exiles from the mainland, Rivers films float in an alternate time and space that mirrors his protagonists' stubborn refusal of the time-clock rhythms of the working day. The ramshackle world of the lonely men portrayed in Rivers films offers a handmade and dilapidated reinvention of capitalist civilization, a utopia of solitude which pushes the capitalist logic of accumulation to a furthest extreme while also forging a new union between man and nature, a quieter, less ominous sublime.
Above: Left, Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse. Right, Ben Rivers' Origins of the Species.
In the late masterworks of Béla Tarr the world also seems to spin differently, blown by unceasing winds, driven by secret, subterranean rhythms. The radical spatio-temporal logic of Tarr's cinema allows his films to unspool in a slow, entropic time, a perpetual yet vital disintegration captured and embodied by the extended length of his signature bravura tracking shots and the melancholy seriality of Vígh Mihály's haunting musical score. Poised precariously on elusive allegory, the fragile, devastating utopias of Tarr's cinema are radical evocations and expansions of the cinema's mythic imagination. With his latest and declared last film Tarr has given a profound new meta-cinematic and sculptural dimension to his art, offering the figure of the broken titular horse as a ghostly vision of Muybridge's protocinema stallion, buffeted and bent by the cruel winds that shape the film's desolate yet uncannily animate landscapes. A meditation on time, labor and the folkloric, The Turin Horse also defiantly declares itself as a stark limit point of the cinema as an art pushed unceremoniously by inexorable "progress" into the uncertain realm of the digital.
Inspired by the creative dialogue at work between the cinema of Béla Tarr and Ben Rivers and Reis and Cordeiro this program sets in motion the logic of the Harvard-Gulbenkian series, uniting the filmmakers themselves through a unique series of screenings and conversations designed to open up the ideas created and contained within their films. Joining the conversation is American film curator and critic Dennis Lim of the New York Film Festival and Film Society of Lincoln Center, whose recent Artforum article on Reis and Cordeiro is reproduced here.
—Haden Guest & Joaquim Sapinho