Revolution and cinema: the Portuguese example - International Conference

INHA, Paris, 10 and 11 March 2014

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Paris, 12 March 2014


History (the mythical story of humanity about itself) has long since ceased to be its likely mirror.

Eduardo Lourenço

To “return”

In honour of the fortieth anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, this three-day international conference seeks to interrogate the cinematic representation of the political event from 1974 to today. The conference’s first aim is to take the word “revolution” in its primary and etymological sense of “return.”

A return to the past, to a revisited memory, through the images of Susana Sousa Dias’ film, 48, which uses the PIDE’s (International and State Defense Police) – an effective organ of repression – anthropometric photographic images to broach the practices of torture during the forty-eight years of Salazar’s dictatorship. A return as well to the testimonies of prisoners, voices emerging from the illuminating shadows of these painful archives, hesitant voices of a present that does not forget.

To return also in the sense of overturning. In 48, the dictatorship’s — the enemy’s images — create new forms of expression of a persistent and active memory in order to give consistency to the unspeakable and the invisible, to the complex temporalities of history.

Finally, to return, as in, “to turn again,” meaning to never give up on the idea of proposing new visual treatments and motifs of the world as it is experienced and perceived; for instance, in the cinema of Pedro Costa.

Revolution, power and creation

 To affix the word “revolution” to the term “cinema” logically leads back to the cinema of the 1970s, which itself inherits, in a certain way, the 1960s Cinema Novo’s (New Cinema) distinctive characteristics. Cinema Novo embraces a generation of Portuguese filmmakers who broke with the prevailing conformism under the dictatorship. Indeed, several elements intersect in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The first of these elements is the emergence of a new generation of cinephiles who were prepared by film clubs and film criticism, and several of whom were awarded Film Council scholarships to study abroad (Paris, London, Brussels). In 1968, following the Oporto Film Club’s “New Portuguese Cinema Week,” an important document was elaborated: “O Ofício do Cinema em Portugal” (“The Craft of Cinema in Portugal”). From that moment on and after about a year of negotiations, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation decided to fund the Portuguese Centre of Cinema (CPC), the first cooperative of Portuguese filmmakers. The creation of the cooperative, which brought together filmmakers, as well as the CPC’s early productions, which were often censored or undermined by Marcello Caetano (who came to power as a result of António Salazar’s infirmity in 1968), are indicative of the regime’s collapse, as well as of the possibility, under the guise of discretion, abnegation, organization and unity, to produce other images, and, therefore, another cinema.

The conquest of a free creation was at once achieved through these acts and images. If not activists, the filmmakers of the revolution were mostly committed individuals who were sensitive to the social and political situation of their country. The films of the Portuguese Revolution were produced within particular structures — including filmmaking cooperatives such as Cinequipa, Cinequanon, Grupo Zero —, some of which were founded before 25 April 1974. During the revolutionary period, that is, between April 1974 and November 1975, more than one hundred films were made. After 1975, many other films continued to be made “in the spirit” of the revolution — it is the case of Rui Simões’ 1980 montage film, Bom Povo Português (Good Portuguese People).

“…a cinema of the forward movement”

 In light of this image work, which disrupted the regime and its dogmas, it seems appropriate to underline cinema’s political power. Therefore, Dominique Noguez’s writings on the political efficiency of cinema offer a possible understanding of the Portuguese film movement between the early 1970s and the revolution. In Le Cinéma autrement, Noguez points out that film’s political efficiency is indeed always limited, since it depends very much on the target audience. While political efficiency is found in everyday activism, Noguez defines four modes of unequivocal political effectiveness. The forth mode possibly corresponds to the New Portuguese Cinema which was censored by the regime: the prospective cinema. “This cinema,” writes Noguez, “is a cinema of the forward movement;” it is even a premonitory cinema. However, it is not a question of retrospectively attributing a political strength to this cinema that it did not already contain. The emergence of the cinema of the revolution is therefore not the result of a sudden change in the field of possibilities, rather it derives from a latent, growing and convulsive dynamic. In a review paper published in 2004, the critic Lauro António states that the Portuguese pre-revolutionary cinema is an important index of the regime’s deterioration: Fernando Matos Silva’s The Unloved (O Mal-Amado, 1973), Alberto Seixas Santos’ Gentle Morals (Brandos Costumes, 1974) or Eduardo Geada’s Sofia and Sexual Education (Sofia e a Educação Sexual, 1973) were simply “unthinkable” before the death of Salazar.

Representing, updating and reconfiguring the real

In contemporary Portuguese cinema, the question is to know how to represent the revolution. How can the revolution’s temporality be reconfigured in the present? How can it be made present and not past? How can the archives of the revolution’s political strength be restored? If the crossing of history is always a critical operation and if the historical approach implies a process of identification with past events, for contemporary Portuguese filmmakers — especially the children of the revolution — these vast archives and this impressive cinematic corpus place the question outside of the reach of any historicism.

A still from the collective film 'As Armas e o Povo' (The Guns and the People, 1975)A still from the collective film 'As Armas e o Povo' (The Guns and the People, 1975)

Naturally, it is a matter of considering the history of the revolution as well as its living memories, but the representation of the past with respect to this film heritage is also at stake. composed by the films directed during the revolutionary period. In The Night The Dictatorship Fell: Lisbon, 4/1974 (A Noite do Golpe de Estado), Ginette Lavigne – who lived in Lisbon during the PREC (“Processo Revolucionário em Curso” or Ongoing Revolutionary Process) – reenacts the coup d’état’s strategic coordination led by Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. Here, reenactement becomes a figure of discontinuity and anachronism.

Memories of the so-called Carnation Revolution continue to nourish the cinematic imaginary of many Portuguese filmmakers and artists. While the links between Cinema Novo and the cinema of the revolution seem clear, the relationship between these cinemas is yet to be explored.

Paul Ricœur states that “rethinking is a form that cancels temporal distance.” To rethink the revolution would then entail making the revolution present, making it come alive, bringing the past and the present together, questioning the effects of the passing of time on the images, the narratives and on cinema itself as an historical device. Nearly forty years after the Carnation Revolution, it is urgent to reexamine its history, to analyze its traces, myths and memories as much as its genealogy in contemporary Portuguese cinema. Today’s acute economic and political crisis in Portugal shakes the very foundations of April’s democracy, and this legacy could perhaps use the present as the inaugural strength of another history to come.

Taking the cinema of revolution as a nodal point and as a major historical shift, which links – other than referential and chronological ones –, unify the pre- and post-revolutionary Portuguese cinemas? In other words, how can this idea of “revolution” remain, irrigate and illuminate Portuguese cinema?

Raquel Schefer & Mickaël Robert-Gonçalves


Submission modalities

Forty years after the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, this conference proposes to bring together a range of speakers (researchers and filmmakers) to debate the cinematic representation of the revolution and the persistence of certain forms and figures in contemporary Portuguese cinema.

Oral presentations will not exceed twenty minutes and will be followed by ten minutes of discussion. All speakers are recommended to develop a theoretical reflection departing from concrete and clearly identified objects of study. Papers may address, but are not limited to, one of the following topics:

1. The cinematic representation of the revolutionary event.

2. The revolution according to the Portuguese cinema: aesthetic consequences of the revolution

3. Context of production, politics of distribution

4. Memory and filmic rewriting 

5. An engaged contemporary Portuguese cinema: continuity and rupture

Please submit proposals for individual papers presentation before Wednesday, January 15, 2014 to the following email address:

            All speakers are encouraged to provide a title, an abstract (around 500 words), key bibliographical references and a short biography (150 words). The Scientific Board will review proposals and announce their decision at the beginning of February. The papers may be published.

Conference languages: English, French and Portuguese.

Scientific Board: Nicole Brenez (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3), Teresa Castro (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3), Susana de Sousa Dias (Universidade de Lisboa, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3, filmmaker), Raquel Varela (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), Raquel Schefer (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3), Philippe Dubois (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3), José Filipe Costa (filmmaker), Benjamin Léon (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3) et Mickaël Robert-Gonçalves (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3).


Official partners: Institut de recherche sur le cinéma et l’audiovisuel (IRCAV) - French National Institute of Art History (INHA) - Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (French delegation) - Cinéma du Réel International Documentary Film Festival - Groupe de recherche en histoire et esthétique du documentaire (GRHED - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) - Association of Researchers of the Moving Image (AIM, Portugal).


by Raquel Schefer
Afroscreen | 27 October 2013 | 25 april, revolution