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How Fernando Pessoa Saved Portugal And The Poetics Of Advertising

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

By: Siavash Rokni



What are Short films best suited for as a genre? Perhaps more than anything they enable restraint as a critical aspect of creative process. Just like a music composer uses restraint in form, structure and message, film can too use its own techniques. Restraint of time can be a powerful tool for a film’s structure, form, theme and rhythm.


This quality is what makes Como Fernando Pessoa Salvou Portugal (How Fernando Pessoa saved Portugal), a short film offered on MUBI (also available for free on YouTube), a powerful piece of art. The film directed by the U.S. born French film maker Eugène Green. Green is a France-based playwright, educator and film maker. In 1977, he created his own theatre company Le Théâtre de la Sapience, where he began financing experimental theatre works and producing his own theatre. It took him another 20 odd years before he got into film making. His first film, Toutes les nuits, created in 2001, made a great impression on the legendary Jean Luc Godard to the point that he called it one of the top 100 films of the recent years in an interview with Les Inrockuptibles in 2004. Green is known to adapt a baroque aesthetic, specifically its theatre. The principle subject of How Fernando Pessoa saved Portugal is the advertising. However, the intention of the film goes beyond such subject into the poetics of advertising, its power, and the relationship between tradition and modernity.


The film is based on a true story of a poet named Fernando Pessao who is asked by his employer to write an advertising slogan for a beverage called Coca-Louca. Pessao is portrayed as a man who has always dreamed of succeeding in business while every one of his attempts fail. From the very beginning, the satiric nature of the film is introduced with the conversation between Pessao and his employer. The film is shot in Lisbon with beautiful long shots of the city and its empty public spaces. Natural light is indeed used quiet intelligently. The direction of acting is noteworthy because it brings the reminiscent of theatre into film. The actors tend to speak very slowly and literally while not disclosing any kind of feelings in their facial expressions. One interpretation that I can think of is that the world of power, be it advertising, religion or government, is a world of protocolar interactions. Thus, Green is probably trying to satirically critique this world by purposefully having the actors act in a very protocolar fashion.


Meanwhile, the film hints at the history of Portugal in 1927 as a country that endured a coup d’état, was in a midst of dictatorship, and was deeply religious while being seduced by what Green himself calls Barbaria, the geographical entity located between Canada and Mexico. Many parts of the history of Portugal is revisited while moral and ethical practices are questioned. In the conversation between Pessao and his employer, for instance, the employer mentions that United-Statesians are pure because they don’t drink alcohol and that it is banned in that country. This is a hint at the prohibition at the time while also an observation of the great role of religion in the Portuguese society at the time. It is also a hint at the seductive power of consumerism from the North American societies of the time. All in all, the way that the story unfolds puts into perspective the relationships between three institutions of business, government and religion. However, what really hits home is the idea of the poetics of advertising and the power of each to evoke emotions in the most profound ways.

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