A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Battle of Aljubarrota, 1385
On this day in 1385, the battle of Aljubarrota ended Spanish designs on Portugal and confirmed an independent throne in Portugal, under King John I. The battle was waged between John I of Portugal and his English allies on one side and King John I of Castile and his Aragonese, Italian and French allies on the other side. The situation had come about after the previous king of Portugal, Ferdinand I, had died without male issue and had declared that the crown would pass to his daughter, Beatrice, and her intended, Juan I of Castile. This would have seen the throne pass into Spanish hands, a situation the Portuguese nobility and merchant class were unwilling to accept. It fell to John, the bastard child of Ferdinand I’s father, Peter I, to seize the moment and begin hostilities against the Castilians. John appealed both to Portugal’s English allies and to the Church to recognise his claim and support him. England did and, honouring the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373, it sent troops hardened by the Hundred Years War to help John, now recognised inside Portugal as John I. The battle was defensive, with the Portuguese choosing the site – Sao Jorge near Aljubarrota – and waiting there for the Castilians to arrive, which they duly did. The Portuguese had the advantage of English bowmen and they dug pits and ditches to disrupt the Castilian cavalry. They also had the advantage of a clear view over the battlefield. When the fighting eventually started, around 6pm, the French and Castilian cavalry were soon in disarray, thanks to the Portuguese tactics, which led to a bloody pitch battle at close quarters. Before sunset the Castilians were on the run.
Our Beloved Month of August (2008, dir: Miguel Gomes)
Films that start as one thing and end as another tend to be irritating to but they do happen – the spoof superhero film that really wants to get its cape on and be a real superhero film being the most common. But how about a film that starts as a documentary and ends as a love story? That’s what This Dear Month/Our Beloved Month of August does – its title varies with region. We appear to be watching a traditional travelogue set in Portugal, which is extolling the virtues of this beautifully simple village, full of pious people who carry statues in the local religious parades. We hear about the local tradition of jumping off the bridge into the river at carnival and meet a local oddball who has hurt his ankle doing just that. Boom mics are in evidence, a documentary is clearly being made. And then we overhear two villagers discussing their “roles”. Hang on. Aren’t they “real” people? Are they having a joke about being in a film, daaahhling? Then we’re off again, taking in a lot of music by local MOR dance bands, the sort you get in the cosy restaurants of the Portuguese diaspora wherever they’ve made their home. It’s only later on that we realise that these bands form the bridge between the general travelogue and the specific story this clever and atmospheric film tells, about a female singer, her boyfriend and the girl’s jealous (and possibly incestuous) father.
This relationship might provide the bridge but the film is really about the slide from one genre to another, the feelings it stirs up in the viewer, this viewer anyway, as he goes from watching what he takes to be true (documentary), to what he challenges as true (the “staged reality” sequences beloved of shows such as Jersey Shore and The Only Way Is Essex), to what he can comfortably sit back and watch as “proper” fiction. It doesn’t stop there, either. Right at the end director Miguel Gomes pushes the film once more, into the fantastical, just a nudge, just enough to let the audience know that it’s being dicked about with again.
The entire effect is remarkable, making the film like no other I’ve ever seen, not even like the director’s follow-up, Tabu, which is another remarkable film about the expectations that genres set up. You might expect the feeling that Gomes engenders to be bewilderment, but in fact, because there’s something so perfect about the way Gomes has pulled it off, it’s more like elation.
- Miguel Gomes announces himself as a great film-maker
- Rui Poças’s cinematography
- The sound design of Vasco Pimentel
- Sónia Bandeira as Tânia
© Steve Morrissey 2014