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Portugal's Oscar Finalists

by new contributor Claudio Alvez

a biopic on the queer 1980s singer António Variações could be Portugal's Oscar submission

In the history of the Best International Film Oscar (formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film) no country has as many failed submissions as Portugal. It’s been submitting films every year since 1980 and yet, not one of them has managed to secure a nomination. As a Portuguese cinephile and Oscar buff this has always saddened me and I doubt this Awards season will change anything. 

At the moment, there are four finalists for the Oscar submission...

A special jury has selected Rage, Parque Mayer, Variações: Guardian Angel and The Domain. Following this, the Portuguese Academy of Cinema (Academia Portuguesa de Cinema) will vote on the eventual Oscar submission. The results should be known this month, perhaps around the time The Domain arrives at Portuguese cinemas. Right now, it’s the only one that hasn’t opened yet, having just been shown at the Venice Film Festival where it’s competing for the Golden Lion. It’s also the only finalist I haven’t watched, though I can give an overview of the other three.

Rage (Raiva), directed by Sérgio Tréfaut is an austere historical drama in stark black and white. It’s a story of social inequalities in early 20th century Portugal, during times of dictatorship and a quasi-feudal system over certain parts of the countryside. There’s a John Ford-esque quality to the film, with imagery that owes a lot to the tradition of the western. It’s also my favorite of the finalists I’ve seen, though I doubt it will the Portuguese Academy’s choice. Despite critical acclaim and the film’s visual splendor, it’s a bleak affair and quite severe, both in terms of narrative and form.

Parque Mayer, directed by António Pedro Vasconcelos, is a much less difficult movie-going experience. The film is a love letter to Portuguese Revue Theatre of the 1930s, when state censorship made the very act of putting on a show a dangerous enterprise. To be honest, Parque Mayer is a very conventional, light-hearted romp with weak attempts at historical importance. If it was made in English it would probably look like so many other Oscar friendly prestige projects in the style of Mrs. Henderson Presents.

Variações: Guardian Angel, directed by João Maia, is a musical biopic of António Variações, a queer singer that, in early 80s Portugal, achieved improbable stardom, before dying in 1984. Far from being a simple retelling of his success story, the film ignores the years of stardom, focusing instead on his struggles to get a first record made and the last days of his life. It’s not bad like Bohemian Rhapsody, but it’s a shallow, disappointing, portrait of a fascinating man. Despite this, it’s been a huge, record setting, hit in Portugal. 

Finally, we have The Domain (A Herdade), directed by Tiago Guedes. While it hasn't yet opened in Portugal we know it's an almost three-hour long epic focused on a wealthy land owning family. Spanning from the 1940s to the 90s, it is both the story of a family and the story of Portugal through several political and social changes, including the 1974 revolution. Reviews have been mostly positive, though a bit lukewarm, with comparisons made to George Stevens’ Giant. It certainly looks gorgeous.

Unless The Domain wins something big at Venice, I would expect Variações to be the Portuguese Oscar submission, mostly due to its popularity at home. That said, the Portuguese Academy has been known to to make unpredictable choices, like the year they passed on the critical darling Tabu and chose, instead, to submit Blood of My Blood.

The big story here, is actually what’s not among the finalists. Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino won a prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, managed to be released internationally and was critically acclaimed. All of this and it somehow got voted out by the Jury. I can only guess it was too weird and way too transgressive for their tastes. It’s a pity, because, at least before seeing The Domain, it seemed like the only choice that might have gotten Portugal to the pre-nomination shortlist.

Oscar submission charts



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Reader Comments (8)

Totally unrelated but I absolutely loved Conan Osíris performance at Eurovision. He should have been a contender.

September 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Muito obrigado for a great review of the Portuguese race! I still think "A Herdade" will be selected to represent Portugal.

I had high hopes for "Diamantino". The trailer looked like a cross between Gregg Araki (my favorite director), Christopher Durang (my favorite writer) and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There were so many great ideas percolating. However, I hated the film and am not disappointed that it's not on the shortlist.

September 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterA.D.

from someone who has seen A Herdade and has voted, I would say it is good, not great. I think it might get the push to be the one submitted just because of the Venice hype it's getting against the already seen "shallow, disappointing portrait" of Variações. But one never knows

September 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterwhoamI

CONAN OSIRIS rules. That's all.

About the Portuguese submission - it's going to be THE DOMAIN.
I, too, feel sad when I remember the exquisite, wonderful, beautiful TABU was left out of the race. It would have gotten into the shortlist that year for sure...

September 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJay

I really like Diamantino, but I COMPLETELY get why it would turn someone off. Goofy and problematic don't always make the best combo.

September 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

As a Portuguese, I also believe it will be the domain. "Variações" has the audience but it doesn't have the prestige shinning. "Raiva" was an early release - wide acclaimed and brilliant, but too early to be remembered. "Mayer" can get it since it had some love from the Portuguese Academy (Sophia Awards!!!!) and it is about such an iconic element of Portuguese culture. "The Domain" looks gorgeous and epic and it is the first Portuguese movie in 14 years competing for the Golden Lion and news said it got a standing ovation at Venice... It will be either "Mayer" or "The Domain"

September 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEd

The Domain was just chosen as Portuguese contender.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPip

Jay and Ed, you were completely right. The Domain is indeed Portugal's Oscar submission.
I'll watch it in a few days and hope it's good.

September 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCláudio Alves

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