Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Florbela [2012]

MPAA (UR would R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

Florbela [2012] (written and directed by Vicente Alves do Ó) is an award winning biopic about Florbela Espanca [PT]* (played in the film by Dalila Carmo) an early 20th century Portuguese proto-feminist poet with a typical for artists of the time difficult/troubled life.  The film played recently at the 29th Chicago Latino Film Festival.

The film begins in 1925 with the beginning of her marriage (her third at still only 30) to Mário Lage (played in the film by Albano Jerónimo), the reason for the dissolution of her first marriage unclear but the second being because her husband beat her.

Needless to say to have been married three times in the 1920s in a traditionally Catholic country like Portugal would have exposed her to a great deal of social criticism.  Yet, from the beginning, her life was a tormented mess.  She was the daughter of a maid-servant and though adopted by the family for whom her mother worked, her actual paternity remained unclear until after her death.  

Mário Lage's estate was in the countryside by the sea.  She would have been largely sheltered from the social criticism that she faced if she stayed there.  However, she was close to her adoptive brother Apeles Espanca (played in the film by Ivo Canelas) and thus returned back to Lisbon to be with him after the tragic death of Apeles' fiancee.  It also allowed her to go back to some of writing, even though, as a tormented introvert, she didn't allow most of her work to be published while she was still alive.

After Apeles died tragically in a plane crash (was it suicide? no one ever really knew for sure) she returned back to her father João Espanca (played in the film by António Fonseca) where she twice apparently tried committing suicide as well (in the film, one attempt is shown as she tries jumping down a well).  Eventually she died, on Dec 8, 1930 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and also her 36th birthday), officially of tristeza (sadness).

Yet today, her works, tormented/sad, are considered some of the most significant Portuguese poetry of her time.  Some of it is available (in Portuguese) online.  Those who read some Spanish or Italian could probably understand some of it.  What I've read is quite lovely, if also very, very sad.

So Florbela's life seemed to have been tormented mess.  And yet, this seems par for the course for many artists and intellectuals of the early 20th century.  The film, a "period piece," certainly shows the sounds and styles of the time exquisitely and even hints at the foreboding nature of the time.  After all, these were the years between the two World Wars and just a few years before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War which took place next door.  Florbela appeared to be completely apolitical but as someone more or less obviously prone to depression certainly had to be effected by the atmosphere around her.

That artists are often very sensitive (and rather sad/tormented) people is an insight that Italian director Paolo Sorrentino recently applied in his film This Must be the Place [2011] to help understand some of the strange and rather depressed behavior of some of the 1960s-80s era Rock Stars: Why did some of these "Rock Gods" write so many lyrics that were so sad?  Well, Sorrentino's insight was that artists throughout the ages were often very sad, sensitive people.  In anycase, Florbela's life appears to be a clear testament to this view.

Now someone who was married three times (and later tried committing suicide at least twice) could not have been at that time particularly religious in the sense of that time.  (Yet, the film indicated that after the death of her brother, she did put herself in front of an altar to Mary offering her a flower).  When considering  someone who's endured so many difficulties in life (and add to that had a sensitive disposition to begin with) it honestly becomes very hard to judge.

In any case, this is a beautiful if often very, very sad film.

* Immediate machine translation of foreign (in this case Portuguese) language links are generally best viewed using Google's Chrome browser.

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