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Politico-poetry: The Cinema of Pere Portabella

MUBI Special

Pere Portabella is one of Spain’s most adventurous and pertinent filmmakers: while being deeply involved in politics (before and after Franco’s death), he also took his first steps into filmmaking, first as a producer (of Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana amongst other films) and then as a director. What is astonishing in the Catalan director’s artistic practice is how the political and aesthetic dimensions coincide fully. In two of his earlier films, Vampir and Umbracle, a defiant film language is adopted to counteract the official cinema being made under Franco’s regime, while his film El Sopar, witnesses a conversation about life in jail between ex-political prisoners, on the day of an execution. Alongside these formally and fundamentally activist films, the works from his later filmography testify to a more narrative yet free-flowing type of cinema, in which architecture, art and music take a pivotal role in exploring the makings of history, fragmenting and unweaving its representation to better explore the current state of our modern world.

The Silence Before Bach

Pere Portabella Spain, 2007

To close our focus on director Pere Portabella, we present one of his latest features! Right from its initial camera’s prowl through an empty studio, which finally settles on a twirling player-piano, it is a beautiful, at times bonkers celebration of the role Bach’s music plays in the world today.

Warsaw Bridge

Pere Portabella Spain, 1989

As part of our series on the director Pere Portabella we are delighted to present the wondrous Warsaw Bridge, in which the Catalan filmmaker fractures the narrative to compose a sophisticated artefact able to defy History and question collective (in)memory.

El sopar

Pere Portabella Spain, 1974

Pere Portabella’s El Sopar attests to his political involvement around the time of Spain’s transition to democracy, as he invited ex-political prisoners to meet and speak about detention. Made clandestinely and in the strictest secrecy, it was an act of transgression to Franco’s repressive regime.

Umbracle

Pere Portabella Spain, 1972

Experimental Catalan director Pere Portabella is highly praised—vividly by Jonathan Rosenbaum—yet under-known, and it’s films like this poetic, fragmentary attack on Franco’s “official Spain” which make him essential. An avant-garde firebomb starring, believe it or not, Christopher Lee!

Vampir

Pere Portabella Spain, 1970

We open our focus on innovative director Pere Portabella with his first “documentary” feature, a most unique and experimental horror film, about the making of a horror film! Shot on Christopher Lee’s real-life movie set, it stands out as a key work pushing Spanish cinema against Franco’s regime.

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