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Pere Portabella

Pere Portabella

Pere Portabella is a veteran Catalan filmmaker whose narrative features—rich in interludes, plot diversions, atmosphere, and unexpected synchronies between sight and sound—limn the avant-garde and expand the expressive potential of cinema. Portabella, who began his cinematic career as a producer of fiction films implicitly critical of General Francisco Franco, had his passport revoked when Luis Buñuel's Viridiana 1961, which he helped to make, "embarrassed" Spain at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962. When democracy returned to Spain, Portabella served as a senator in the Catalan government. Throughout his various careers, Portabella continued to make cinema, investigating meaning in the moving image and expanding the notion of genre—particularly for horror films, fantasy films, and thrillers.

'Pere Portabella' curated by Mark Nash with accompanying film notes, unless otherwise indicated.

LECTURE: Pere Portabella

A special lecture on the films of Pere Portabella by Mark Nash, curator, writer and Head of Department for Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art, London. Nash recently published Screen Theory Culture (2008, Palgrave) and also presented a retrospective of Portabella at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2007. He was co-curator of documenta 11: Documentary and the Reality Effect in 2002.

Sat 30 Aug 3.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from The Delinquents

Los Golfos (The Delinquents) 1960
35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 80 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: CARLOS SAURA / PRODUCER: PERE PORTABELLE / SCRIPT: MARIO CAMUS, CARLOS SAURA, DANIEL SUEIRO / CINEMATOGRAPHER: JUAN JULIO BAENA / EDITOR: PEDRO DEL REY / MUSIC: JOSÉ PAGÁN, ANTONIO RAMÍREZ ÁNGEL / PRODUCTION CO: FILMS 59

‘Inspired by Luis Buñuel’s films, Saura’s acclaimed first film—the “most difficult film in my career”—is an uncompromising portrait of a teenage gang (played by street children) and the first Spanish film shot entirely on location. When one of the boys expresses a desire to become a bullfighter, the others pull a big heist to finance their pal’s dream. Delayed by the censors during pro- duction, the film revealed the contradictions in Franco’s “defascistization,” and the censorship and repression that continued under his regime.’ MoMA

Fri 22 Aug 6.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from El Cochecito (The Little Coach)

El Cochecito (The Little Coach) 1960
35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, 85 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: MARCO FERRERI / SCRIPT: RAFAEL AZCONA, MARCO FERRERI / PRODUCER: PERE PORTABELLA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: JUAN JULIO BAENA / EDITOR: PEDRO DEL REY / MUSIC: MIGUEL ASINS ARBÓ

‘All Don Anselmo wants is a motorized wheelchair, so he can go buzzing around town with his invalid pal Don Lucas and join in the races for the handicapped. The problem is that there's nothing wrong with his legs, and his prosperous but parsimonious son, the lawyer, refuses to indulge him... El Cochecito, too, has its satiric edge – almost everybody, even likable Anselmo, is utterly self-centered. The drastic steps the old fellow takes to stop walking and start riding constitute a quirkily rueful look at the loneliness and longings of age.’ Walter Goodman

Wed 27 Aug 4.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from Viridiana

Viridiana 1961
35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 90 MINUTES, MEXICO / SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: LUIS BUÑUEL / EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: PERE PORTABELLA / SCRIPT: JULIO ALEJANDRO, LUIS BUÑUEL / CINEMATOGRAPHER: JOSÉ F. AGUAYO / EDITOR: PEDRO DEL REY / MUSIC: GUSTAVO PITTALUGA

‘After years of exile that saw him working in the U.S., France, and principally Mexico, Luis Buñuel returned to his native Spain to make this dark account of corruption. Viridiana was produced with the blessings of the Spanish government and under the scrutiny of its censors, but only after its release did Franco’s regime realize the film’s meaning; they promptly banned it. Viridiana, like the priest in Buñuel’s Nazarin, is a "saint" whose virtues lead to terrible misfortunes, not only for herself but for others. Sylvia Pinal gives a superb performance as the young novitiate, full of charity, kindness, and idealistic illusions about humanity, who visits her uncle (a closet transvestite) and tries to help some local peasants and beggars. The final beggars’ orgy—a black parody of the Last Supper, performed to the ethereal strains of Handel’s "Messiah"—is one of the director’s most memorably disturbing, wickedly humorous scenes. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, Viridiana welcomed Buñuel back to the center stage of world cinema.’ Harvard Film Archive

Sat 16 Aug 2.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from Don’t Count on your Fingers

No Compteu amb els Dits (Don’t Count on your Fingers) 1967
35MM, BLACK AND WHITE AND COLOUR, MONO, 26 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / SCRIPT: JOAN BROSSA, PERE PORTABELLE / CINEMATOGRAPHER: LUIS CUADRADO / EDITOR: TBC / MUSIC: JOSEPH M. MESTRES QUADRENY / PRODUCTION CO: FILMS 59 / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

Made six years after he produced Luis Buñuel's Viridiana, Portabella's directorial debut takes the anti-narrative form of an experimental commercial consisting of fifteen short segments that explore repression and power.

Fri 15 Aug 7.00pm (with Nocturno 29) / Cinema A

Production still from Nocturno 29

Nocturno 29 1968
35MM, BLACK AND WHITE AND COLOUR, MONO, 83 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLE / SCRIPT: JOAN BROSSA, PERE PORTABELLA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: LUIS CUADRADO / EDITOR: TBC / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS, JOSEP M. MESTRES QUADRENY / PRODUCTION CO: FILMS 59 / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

Portabella's first feature-length film—the title of which refers to the twenty-nine dark years of Franco's reign—is a collaboration with the celebrated Catalan poet Joan Brossa. Virtually dialogue-free and composed of "super-realist fragments exposing the irrelevance of everyday life" (Portabella), the film circulated clandestinely in Spain.

Fri 15 Aug 7.00pm (with Don’t Count on your Fingers) / Cinema A

Production still from Miró L'Altre

Miró L'Altre 1969
16MM, BLACK AND WHITE AND COLOUR, MONO, 15 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH & CATALAN (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: PERE PORTABELLA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: MANEL ESTEBAN / EDITOR: TERESA ALCOCER / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS / PRODUCTION CO: COLEGIO OFICIAL DE ARQUITECTOS DE BARCELONA / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

In Miró L'Altre, Miró paints a mural outside the exhibition that is turned into a conceptual piece at Portabella's suggestion—and is then destroyed by cleaning ladies!

Fri 29 Aug 6.00pm (Miró shorts program) / Cinema A

Production still from Miró 37/Aidez L'Espagne

Miró 37/Aidez L'Espagne 1969
16MM, BLACK AND WHITE AND COLOUR, MONO, 5 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH & CATALAN (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT/CINEMATOGRAPHER/EDITOR: PERE PORTABELLA / PRODUCTION CO: COLEGIO OFICIAL DE ARQUITECTOS DE BARCELONA / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

Miró 37 juxtaposes documentary footage of the Spanish Civil War with an exhibition of Miró's work at the College of Architects in Barcelona that aimed to counter his appropriation by the Francoist establishment.

Fri 29 Aug 6.00pm (Miró shorts program) / Cinema A

Production still from Vampir-Cuadecuc

Vampir-Cuadecuc 1970
16MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 75 MINUTES, SPAIN, ENGLISH / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: PERE PORTABELLA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: MANEL ESTEBAN, FRANCESC BELLMUNT / EDITOR: MIGUEL BONASTRE / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS / PRODUCTION CO: FILMS 59, PERE PORTABELLA / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

Vampir Cuadecuc is a delirious reflection on the codes and conventions of the horror film through the language of structural materialist cinema. Shot on the set of Jesús Franco's Count Dracula 1970, with a compelling soundtrack by Carles Santos, the film alternates between being a horror film—with intertextual references back to Carl Dreyer's Vampyr 1932—and documenting Franco's filming. This film evinces a distinct authorial style, evidenced through Portabella's use of high-contrast photography and his blending of documentary and fiction.

Fri 22 Aug 7.30pmand Sun 31 Aug 1.00pm (with Play Back) / Cinema A

Production still from Umbracle

Umbracle 1970
16MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 85 MINUTES, SPAIN / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / SCRIPT: PERE PORTABELLA, JOAN BROSSA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: MANEL ESTEBAN / EDITOR: TERESA ALCOCER / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS / PRODUCTION CO: FILMS 59 / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

In Umbracle, an aleatory horror film that paints a critical image of Francoist Spain, Portabella continues his exploration of the language of experimental cinema and develops his aesthetic of combining documentary with reenactment. He worked with Christopher Lee to produce an "ideal and predetermined cliché[d]" image of an actor: "Lee offered to perform my ideas with pleasure. I even managed to get him to do the hardest thing an actor can do: nothing."

Sun 24 Aug 3.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from Play Back

Play Back 1970
16MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 8 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: MANEL ESTEBAN, FRANCESC BELLMUNT / EDITOR: TBC / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS / PRODUCTION CO: PERE PORTABELLA / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

Playback documents a Carles Santos recording in which the chorus of the Liceu of Barcelona converts a musical text into a verbal and physical performance.

Fri 22 Aug 7.30pmand Sun 31 Aug 1.00pm (with Vampir-Cuadecuc) / Cinema A

Production still from Acció Santos

Acció Santos 1973
16MM, BLACK AND WHITE AND COLOUR, MONO, 12 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / CINEMATOGRAPHY: MANEL EXTEBAN / EDITOR: TERESA ALCOCER / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS / PRODUCTION CO: PERE PORTABELLA / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

Acció Santos contrasts music performance with intellectual reflection. In the first section, Carles Santos performs Bach at the piano. Then, he listens to the recording while the film falls silent.

Sun 31 Aug 3.00pm (with The Bridge of Warsaw) / Cinema A

Production still from Miró Tapís Miró Tapís 1974
16MM, COLOUR, MONO, 22 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / ASSTISTANT DIRECTOR: ANNIE SETTIMÓ / CINEMATOGRAPHER: MANUEL ESTEBAN / EDITOR: TBC / PRODUCTION CO: PERE PORTABELLA / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59
Production still from Miró La Forja

Miró La Forja 1973
16MM, COLOUR, MONO, 26 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: ANNIE SETTIMÓ / CINEMATOGRAPHER: MANEL EXTEBAN / EDITOR: TBC / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS / PRODUCTION CO: PERE PORTABELLA / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

   

Miró Tapís and Miró La Forja are direct-sound documentations of the production of Miró works, including the vast tapestry that hung in the vestibule of one of the Twin Towers.

Fri 29 Aug 6.00pm (Miró shorts program) / Cinema A

Production still from El Sopar

El Sopar 1974
16MM, COLOUR, MONO, 74 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: PERE PORTABELLA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: MANUEL ESTEBAN / EDITOR: TERESA ALCOCER / PRODUCTION CO: PERE PORTABELLA / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

In 1974, on the night the militant anarchist Salvador Puig Antich was executed, five former political prisoners—Angel Abad, Jordi Cunill, Lola Ferreira, Narcís Julian, and Antonio Marín—gather in a farmhouse to prepare a meal and make a film discussing the problems and issues arising from long prison terms. Portabella uses simple cinematic conventions to explore his subject: "You can't understand liberation if you don't begin with yourself."

Sun 24 Aug 1.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from Informe generale

Informe generale sobre algunas cuestiones de interés para una proyección pública (General Report on Some Interesting Facts for a Public Showing) 1976
16MM, COLOUR, MONO, 173 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / SCRIPT: PERE PORTABELLA, CARLES SANTOS, OCTAVI PELLISSA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: MANUEL ESTEBAN / / EDITOR: TBC / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS / PRODUCTION CO: FILMS 59 / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

Clandestinely shot documentary footage of demonstrations in major cities is interwoven with interviews and discussions between Spanish politicians, union activists, and representatives (many of whom would become key figures in post-1978-constitution Spain). This film documents the creative process by which a constitution and a country come into being—through a society asking itself: How could Spain rid itself of its Francoist institutions and become a democratic, socialist country that respects the identities of its component nationalities?

Sun 17 Aug 1.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from The Bridge of Warsaw

Pont de Varsòvia (The Bridge of Warsaw) 1989
35MM, COLOUR, DOLBY, 85 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH & CATALAN (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / SCRIPT: PERE PORTABELLA, CARLES SANTOS, OCTAVI PELLISSA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: TOMÁS PLADEVALL / EDITOR: MARISA AGUINAGA / MUSIC: CARLES SANTOS / PRODUCTION CO: FILMS 59 / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

The idea for The Bridge of Warsaw, a less conceptual film than Accío Santos, started from a line in a newspaper: "The body of a scuba diver was found in a burnt forest." Portabella elaborates narrative fragments from this kernel in a procedure that recalls that of the French nouveau roman. Made as the Cold War was ending, the film critiques the Spanish intelligentsia's indifference to political and historical change.

Sun 31 Aug 3.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from Train of Shadows: The Spector of Le Thuit

Tren de sombras: Le Spectre De Le Thuit (Train of Shadows: The Spector of Le Thuit) 1997
35MM, BLACK AND WHITE AND COLOUR, DOLBY DIGITAL, 87 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: JOSÉ LUIS GUERÍN / PRODUCER: PERE PORTABELLA / CINEMATOGRAPHER: TOMÀS PLADEVALL / EDITOR: MANEL ALMIÑANA

‘On November 8, 1930, amateur filmmaker Gérard Fleury stood on the shores of Normandy's Lake Thuit, watching the sun rise in preparation for an upcoming shoot that would never take place; he died later that day under mysterious circumstances. Out of this information, Guerín constructs a haunting meditation on the photographic and cinematic image, on loss and decay, on the passing of time, the recounting of history and the blurring of fact and fiction. He uses both re-enactments and decayed images to render ambiguous past and present, historical record and speculation, and to make poetry out of loss.’ Harvard Film Archive

Wed 20 Aug 4.00pm / Cinema A

Production still from The Silence before Bach

Die Stille vor Bach (The Silence before Bach) 2007
35MM, COLOUR, DOLBY STEREO, 102 MINUTES, SPAIN, SPANISH & GERMAN (ENGLISH SUBTITLES) / DIRECTOR: PERE PORTABELLA / SCRIPT: PERE PORTABELLA, CARLES SANTOS, XAVIER ALBERTÍ / CINEMATOGRAPHER: TOMÁS PLADEVALL / EDITOR: ÒSKAR GÓMEZ / PRODUCTION CO: FILMS 59 / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: FILMS 59

Portabella's latest film, about how Johann Sebastian Bach transformed the world through music, explores the dramaturgical relation between music and image. Works by Bach, as well as two of Felix Mendelssohn's sonatas, are performed on original and modern instruments (including a harmonica) in a series of narrative fragments set in environments associated with the music—from long-distance trucks to the Thomasschule Leipzig. An example of cinema redefining the experience of music for a contemporary audience, it recalls Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach 1968 in its structural use of music.

Fri 29 Aug 7.30pm / Cinema A