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João Pedro Rodrigues has expanded upon the long tradition of Portuguese avant-garde cinema – rich with notable figures like Manoel de Oliveira and Pedro Costa – with his consistently formal, elliptically poetic films. Portraying subjects like the mystery of human desire and sexuality, as well as the relationship between the East and the West, his films have been regularly screened and honored at all of the important film festivals since 1997, including Venice, Berlin, Cannes, and Locarno. His cooperation with João Rui Guerra da Mata resulted in some of the most unusual Portuguese films of the last ten years. He has already been the subject of retrospectives at institutions such as the Harvard Film Archive and festivals in Toronto and Taipei. His works are included in the permanent collections of MoMA, Harvard Film Archive and the Austrian Film Museum. “My films always focus in some way on the echo of classic cinema that can still be faintly heard in contemporary film – be it fictional, documentary or experimental – and also on the social and political echo; they are also about the deep mysteries of gender identity today,” (João Pedro Rodrigues).
João Pedro Rodrigues was born in Lisbon in 1966, where he lives today. Interested in birds, he first studied biology and later film direction. To date, he has directed five feature films and over ten short films and documentaries. All of his full-length films and many of his shorter works have been screened in theaters and television in many countries, including the United States. He first worked as an assistant director, assistant editor and editor for directors like Pedro Costa and Teresa Villaverde. In 1997, his short film Happy Birthday! celebrated its premiere at the festival in Venice, where it won the Silver Lion. In addition to his work in film, he has also been a member of prestigious juries, such as the Cinéfondation in 2011, and the Golden Palm for short films in Cannes in 2012, where he also served as jury president.
Beginning with his first short film, he has written scripts with his production designer João Rui Guerra da Mata. Since 2011, they have directed films together, including Alvorada Vermelha (2011) and A Última Vez Que Vi Macau (2012), which was included in the Concorso internazionale in Locarno and received honorable mention from the jury. In 2015, they directed the documentary film Iec Long, which was also screened at the festival in Berlin.
João Pedro Rodrigues’ films use the figure of the human body to investigate two very different issues: Portugal as well as Portugal’s colonial history, with the example of Macao. They deploy one recurrent motif – metamorphosis, transformation – whether depicting the body or a natural landscape. Films like To Die Like A Man (2009), Odete (2005), O Fantasma (2000), and his most recent work O Ornitólogo (2016) explore the variety of gender identity. On the other hand, the short film IEC Long (2014) and the full-length The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012), which he created with João Rui Guerra da Mata, use da Mata’s childhood memories to examine the history of the former Portuguese colony Macao, now a part of China since 2009. The directors call the films their “Asian” films. The narrative weaves together myth, history and private memories, creating a cinematic investigation that demonstrates how film functions as one of the most important tools for colonizing and exoticizing the East. The most diverse styles are on display in The Last Time I Saw Macao: The narrative playfully shifts from a film noir-style detective story to a cantankerous essay on cinema, before pivoting to an aloof urban portrait.
Films by João Pedro Rodgrigues are characterized by his radical, targeted use of sound and music: For example, O Fantasma is practically a silent film, with the exception of an infernal canine chorus complete with the harmonies of barking and whimpering. The soundtrack for Odete, on the other hand, includes Bright Eyes, Andy Williams and a number of versions of Moon River, while To Die Like A Man could almost be called a musical. And yet, what has been deemed “the most downbeat film ever made about transsexuals” (Screen) renounces, like all of João Pedro Rodrigues’s films, spectacle and cheap tricks. He has a knack for composing perfectly puzzling enigmas, such as a gift-wrapped automobile packaged in aluminum foil, or a random assortment of objects tossed into a fish tank: a half-eaten bone, a family portrait, a stiletto heel.
In a review of Odete (Two Drifters, 2007), The New York Times wrote that the film, “Rich in ambiguity ... unequivocally confirms the arrival (of) a major and audacious new talent,” while Time Out New York praised the film, noting that it confirms that João Pedro Rodrigues “may be the most exciting new voice in world cinema today.” Showing traces of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Bergman’s Persona, the film uses these disturbing explorations of identity and obsession as forebears for a Portuguese melodrama “with an absurd, delirious charm that proves to be irresistible,” (Pro-Fun Media).

Text: Maike Wetzel
Translation into English: Amy Pradell

Films (selection): 2016 O Ornitólogo (feature film, 118’) 2014 IEC Long (short film co-directed by João Rui Guerra da Mata, DCP/ color, 31‘) 2013 Allegoria della Prudenza (Episode/ short film, DCP/color, 1,5’) for the 70th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival 2012 The Last Time I Saw Macao (full-length film, DCP/ color, 85‘) 2009 To Die Like A Man (feature film, 133‘) 2005 Odete (feature film, 98‘)
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