Blood (1989), Portuguese cinema

Blood (1989)

Blood (O Sangue) is director Pedro Costa’s first feature film and, it could be argued, the most conventional of all his films, in the fact that it has a linear narrative and characters played mainly by professional actors. However, it paves the way for his later films, particularly in the themes of abandonment, loss of home and depicting the underclass of society, and in techniques, such as using disembodied voices and leaving the audience confused about what is happening and how much time has passed. Students of film will also enjoy the homage to other directors including Robert Bresson and Nicholas Ray.

The film centres around two brothers, 17-year-old Vicente (Pedro Hestnes) and 10-year-old Nino (Nuno Ferreira), who are abandoned by their father (Canto e Castro) early in the film. The protective role is assumed by a classroom assistant in Nino’s school, Clara (Inês de Medeiros), and the three of them form an unorthodox family which is destroyed when Vicente and Nino’s uncle (Luís Miguel Cintra) takes Nino to live with his family.
The black and white cinematography and the constant threatening presence of two gangsters who want Vicente to repay his father’s gambling debt, give the film a film-noirish quality, but the stylized acting, unnatural dialogue and overlit faces against unrealistic backgrounds make it appear slightly self-conscious. Costa generally uses music sparingly in his films, but in Blood there are unexpected and rather incongruous moments of music. One moment is when the employees at the warehouse storing pirated cassettes, where Vicente works, rush to load all the cassettes into a van after a tip-off that the police are coming. This slapstick moment, accompanied by uncharacteristic comedy music, only lasts a short time, but the scene feels like it should be in a different film. The second moment is when Vicente and Clara go to the funfair. The music and direction is reminiscent of a 1980’s pop video and suggests a last moment of happiness before the inevitable destruction of their lives.
Pedro Hestnes as Vicente convincingly conveys his character’s journey from innocence to experience and the loss of joy that this brings, but for me it is the performance of Nuno Ferreira as Nino that stands out. Ferreira was not a trained child actor, but an orphan at a Catholic school who Costa discovered when he was searching for a boy to play Nino. Nino literally appears to age during the film as he moves from being a child with a father, brother and home at the beginning of the film to taking control of the boat he is seen in at the end of the film; a scene which raises more questions than it answers.

Algarvian chimneys, Architecture

Algarvian chimneys

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Walk around any town or village in the Algarve and you will see what appear to be minarets on the roofs of the houses. Look closer and you will see that they are, in fact, chimneys. The chimneys of the Algarve are a distinctive architectural feature of this region and range from simple cylindrical shapes to more complex geometric shapes with complicated filigree and latticework.

The Moorish influence in the architecture of the Algarve, characterised by small, simple, whitewashed houses, gives the region an identity that has less in common with the rest of Portugal and more with southern Spain and North Africa. This is not surprising bearing in mind that the Moors ruled the region they named al-Gharb (which means ‘the west’) from the 8th century to the 13th century. However, it is a common misconception that the chimneys date from the Moorish period, partly based on a myth which says that after the Christian reconquest Muslims in the Algarve, who were banned from practicing their religion, built small minarets on their roofs disguised as chimneys to identify themselves to other Muslims. The truth is that decorative chimneys first started being built on houses in the late-17th and early-18th centuries.

The original 17th- and 18th-century chimneys were built by craftsmen and the more elaborate the design the more expensive the chimney, thus intricate chimneys became a symbol of wealth. No two chimneys were the same, allowing each house to have its own identity. One of the best examples of an eighteenth-century chimney can be see on the roof of the museum on Rua da Chaminé in the small town of Porches near Lagoa. The chimney with its distinctive figure of a woman in yellow dates from 1793.

Sadly, as a result of mass-production, the idea of each house  having a unique chimney is no longer the case. However, the tradition of having a decorated chimney on the roof of the house continues today and modern architects are developing styles of chimney that match the more modern styles of houses, which has resulted in unconventional shapes,  using colour to highlight details, and adding additional ornamentation, such as statues of birds, on the chimney top.

Lisbon, Two ravens and a ship

Two ravens and a ship

 

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Ravens on a boatThese beautiful street lamps can be seen all over Lisbon, but if you look closely you will see there is an image of a ship with a raven at each end. This image represents the journey of the remains of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon, to Portugal. Saint Vincent was tortured and burnt alive for being a Christian in the fourth century and there are several legends about what happened to him after his death. One legend says that  his remains miraculously arrived on the Algarve coast (at the Cape of Saint Vincent) in an empty ship guided by ravens. A further legend says that the ravens remained loyal to Saint Vincent and stayed with his remains in Lisbon’s cathedral until the late 1970s, when the last raven died. The image of the ship with a raven at each end is part of the Lisbon coat of arms and can be seen all over the city: in patterns in the cobblestones, on the exterior of buildings, on signs and statues and even on manhole covers.

Statue of Sao Vicente at Portas do Sol
Statue of São Vicente at Portas do Sol, Lisbon

 

Fado House, Lisbon, Live music

Fado House, Lisbon

 

 

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João Maia with Paulo Silva on the guitarra and Augusto Soares on the viola

If there is one form of music that is intrinsically linked with Lisbon it is fado. Fado is often compared to the blues due to the themes of loss and suffering, but that is where the similarity ends. Fado is uniquely Portuguese. The physical performance by the singer as he or she sings of saudade (yearning, longing and a feeling of nostalgia) is central to fado. A visit to a fado house has become one of the ‘must-do’ experiences when in Lisbon. But has it now become so touristy that it is impossible to experience genuine fado?

We had researched fado houses before we went to Lisbon and they all seemed to offer a similar experience, so in the end we decided to go to the Sala Bocage in the basement of Café Nicola in Rossio square, right in the heart of the Baixa, simply because it was near to our hotel. We paid a €30 deposit to book our table and when booking we were told that we had to spend a minimum of €60 on the night. This was not hard to do as the dishes were around double the price of what we had paid in other restaurants in Lisbon: a flambéed Iberian sausage starter was €13.50, a main course of cod was €26, a dessert was €7.40 and a bottle of house wine was €18. The final bill came to a jaw-dropping €112, but don’t forget that this included an evening of wonderful fado performances by three excellent singers and the two accompanying guitarists.

My research had told me that fado shows are intended for tourists, but some fado houses are run by the fado singers (fadistas / fadistos) themselves, which give a truer experience. I have not had any other experience of a fado house to compare the fado night in the Sala Bocage with, but the music and the performances seemed genuine to me. A fado night will usually include a three-course meal and in between each course the lights are dimmed and the musicians perform a number of songs. The music is treated with reverence and during this time full attention should be paid to the singer. A couple of tourists on the table next to us did not understand this and continued a loud conversation while one of the fadistas was performing. She expertly got them to stop talking by singing directly to them and by giving them a no-nonsense look of disapproval. It was wonderful audience management. The show opened with the powerful vocals of Carina Mateus Saionte, followed by a dramatic performance by Carla Linhares, who seemed to live the lyrics she was singing. The first section finished with the laid-back style of the more experienced resident singer, João Maia. They were accompanied throughout by the wonderful playing of Paulo Silva on the guitarra (a mandolin-style instrument) and Augusto Soares on the viola (a Spanish-style guitar). Soares surprised us by singing a couple of songs himself at the end of the evening. The Sala Bocage (named after a late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth-century poet who frequented Café Nicola) was a perfect venue, being small and intimate with little tables dotted around the stage area – I am choosing to ignore the fact that there was a long table at the back which had a large group who left after the main course. The room was tastefully decorated with an art deco panel behind the guitarists and fado shawls and guitarras decorating the walls. The space was small enough that you could almost touch the musicians.

Was this a ‘genuine’ fado experience? Everyone in the club seemed to be a tourist and, as I have mentioned, the price of the meal was very high, plus there was an awkward moment in one of the breaks when the two young fadistas went round the tables selling their CDs. Some of the tourists in the room seemed surprised that the meal and music lasted throughout the evening and were eager to leave after the main course and maybe that is why aficionados of fado are dismissive of the touristy fado houses. I admit I was a bit embarrassed by my fellow tourists. We were seated at our table at 8.30pm and the music finished at 11.30pm; by that time most of the tourists had left, leaving only a few of us to appreciate the music. It was a lovely evening; the food was good, the waiters were friendly and professional and the music was wonderful and as we don’t know a true Lisbonite who could take us to their local fado house I feel that this was pretty close to a ‘genuine’ fado experience.

 

Practicalities

Fado nights are held on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 8.30pm at Sala Bocage in Café Nicola, Praça Dom Pedro IV (Rossio square), Lisbon.

Booking is essential. You will be asked to pay a deposit of €30 and to spend a minimum of €60. Expect to pay double what you would pay in any other restaurant (this includes the price of the fado show).

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Flambéed sausages, Café Nicola
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Carla Linhares with Augusto Soares on the viola
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Augusto Soares on the viola
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Carina Mateus Saionte with Paulo Silva on the guitarra
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João Maia with Paulo Silva on the guitarra and Augusto Soares on the viola
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Paulo Silva on the guitarra and Augusto Soares on the viola
Albatroz Jazz & Blues Bar, Carvoeiro, Live music

Albatroz Jazz & Blues Bar, Carvoeiro

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(Sadly, only 5 months after writing this review we have learnt that the Albatroz Jazz & Blues Bar has closed down, but we will continue to watch the career of Carlos Cepinha with interest.)

The newest edition to Carvoeiro’s growing list of places to hear live music is Albatroz on Estrada do Farol. Located behind the Casa Algarvia restaurant, it is a small, intimate bar that specializes in live jazz and blues music, and unlike the other bars in Carvoeiro, where the music acts as a background to drinking, dining and talking, in Albatroz the music takes centre stage and, for this reason I suspect, there is an entrance fee.

We went to Albatroz on 30 September 2016, responding to a sign outside the bar advertising a ‘Live Jazz Concert’ starting at 9.30pm. On entering the nearly empty room we had a choice of several comfortable sofas arranged around a comparatively large stage. Unfortunately some of the sofas had pillars in front of them blocking the view of the stage, but on this quiet night we were able to find one with a full view of the musicians on the stage. We ordered a bottle of wine and settled down to watch the Carlos Cepinha Trio. Carlos Cepinha, on jazz guitar, introduced the band, saying that they had recently formed (that explained the very long pauses between each song as they discussed what to play next). Their repertoire comprised of jazz standards, such as ‘Quiet Nights’, ‘Autumn Leaves’, ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ and an original arrangement of ‘Happy Birthday’, but with enough improvisation to keep jazz aficionados happy. Cepinha played the guitar in a style reminiscent of Pat Metheny and he was ably backed up by Tiago Alves on drums and Hugo Santos on bass. After a short break the band was joined on stage by an unintroduced guest trumpeter, who added a Chet Baker-style sound with his trumpet solos and worked well with a band he had clearly not worked with before. An unexpected surprise during the break and also after the band finished playing at 12.30 was when the young, friendly doorman/waiter sat down at the piano on the stage and began competently playing a series of classical pieces. It was unexpected and, if the truth be told, slightly incongruous.

Despite the very small audience, which was mainly comprised of Carlos Cepinha’s friends and family and a couple of men at the bar having a loud conversation, the band played enthusiastically. We witnessed several groups of people walking into the bar, but leaving as soon as they were informed about the entrance fee. The management may have to reconsider this if they are to encourage people in. However, I was very happy to see a venue in Carvoeiro dedicated to this type of music and which puts the music at the forefront. I will be interested to see whether it can attract more people as its reputation spreads.

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Carlos Cepinha Trio

 

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Carlos Cepinha Trio

 

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Carlos Cepinha Trio

 

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Carlos Cepinha Trio and guest pianist