Books

The Baron -Between Branquinho da Fonseca and Edgar Pêra

Published in 1942, The Baron (O Barão), from Branquinho da Fonseca is a short story/novel about the journey of a banal school inspector to a remote village rulled by an odd and decadent aristrocrat.

During the night, everything becomes more surreal and the Baron, increasingly misterious, exerts a magnetic allure over the school inspector.

Branquinho da Fonseca is one of the figures on the portuguese modernist secon wave, “presencista”, and The Baron is, still today, his most well-know work.

Since 2001, every two years, Jornal Expresso and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian awards the “Prémio Branquinho da Fonseca de Literatura Infanto-Juvenil”, a literary prize for youth literature writen by young writers (15 to 30 years old), many of the times awarded to speculative-fiction.

In 2011, the director Edgar Pêra adapted The Baron to the cinema (the full movie can now be seen on Youtube) using an aesthetic reminescent of the german 1920’s horror movies.

The movie was presented as follows:

During the second world war, an American crew of B-Movies took refuge in Lisbon. In 1943, producer Valerie Lewton married with a Portuguese actor that translated to her Branquinho da Fonseca’s short story “The Baron”. The dictator heard about the movie and ordered that the film was destroyed. The crew was repatriated. The Portuguese actors were deported to Tarrafal’s Concentration camp. They died tortured in the “skillet”, a cubicle where humans were roasted. In 2005, 2 reels and the screenplay were found in the archives of Barreiro’s kino-club. For the next 5 years the film was restored and reshot. In 2011, was shown for the first time.

Critical reception

“For cult Portuguese veteran Edgar Pêra, this adaptation of writer Branquinho da Fonseca’s 1942 novella about a big city bureaucrat caught in the seductive wave of a decadent country aristocrat was a long-gestating project, following on his 2007 little-seen filming of the writer’s sole novel, Rio Turvo. On paper, O Barão seems to have little to do with mr. Pêra’s surreal cyber-DIY aesthetics, until one realises that he uses it as an unexpectedly accessible synthesis, both stylistic and thematic, of his 30-year directorial career on the fringes of mainstream film-making. His explorations of Portuguese history and character are visible in the parable of the Baron as a metaphor for an old, parochial country, corrupt, debauched, hypocritical; his fascination with genre cinema, B-movies and trash eccentricity comes through in Luís Branquinho’s dazzling high-contrast black-and-white cinematography and the director’s decision to film the story as a throwback to 1930s Universal and 1950s cheap B-series horror movies as helmed by an epileptic Guy Maddin, with mr. Pêra’s regular accomplice Nuno Melo channeling Bela Lugosi and Klaus Kinski in his portrayal of the Baron. The result is the director’s most accessible fiction yet, playfully described on the press notes as a “2D movie”, although it never fully abandons mr. Pêra’s playful, often impenetrable way with narrative and insistence on highly baroque visuals (the creativity of the English subtitling is wondrous and yet over the top). Yet O Barão is also an unapologetically romantic tale of love and regret (as indeed most classic horror movies) and the director’s most sincere work yet.”

Jorge Mourinha in The FLICKERING WALL

‘They don’t make them like this any more’ is the initial, paradoxical thought that crops up whilst watching the magnificent The Baron. Perhaps Edgar Pera’s most ambitious film so far comes across like an apparition from the last century, and makes no bones about it. Whether this is true or not, The Baron announces itself as an attempt to remake a film destroyed by Portuguese dictator Salazar’s political police before it could be finished. This point of departure is vaguely reminiscent of A Short Film About the Indo Nacional and Indepencia by Raya Martin from the Philippines, who tries to use his films to give his country a film history it doesn’t have. Or perhaps even wishes to add an essential, missing element to prevent history from being perverted forever by the cruel consequences of dictatorship, poverty and censorship.’

Gerwin Tamsma, Roterdam Film Festival programmer

Edgar Pêra returned to the imaginary of Branquinho da Fonseca in 2018 with the movie Magnetick Pathways (Caminhos Magnétykos) inspire in the short story book with the (more or less) same name published in 1038.

In the book, the story “A Tragédia de D. Ramon” (The Tragedy of Dom Ramon) has the main character revolving around the marriage or her daughter in a delusional and existential crises that Edgar Pêra portrayed in a surreal language, filled of superimposed images, virtual scenarios and onyric visual effects.

Magnetick Pathways won 3 awards in the USA :

  • Vortex Grand Prize, for best science fiction/fantasy feature film at the Rhode Island  Film Festival in Providence
  • Best actor (Dominique Pinon) at Infest New York Film Festival
  • Best Experimental film at the Glendale Film Festival

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