Portabella, Pere


Portabella, Pere
(1929- )
   Pere Portabella's work as producer and director has largely taken place on the margins of the film industry. Although he will not accept the label "underground," he takes pride in the fact that his films have never been "commercial," a word he despises. Following the lead of Jean-Luc Godard and the more radical artists from the nouvelle vague, he experimented with film language, always questioning the classical, linear, straightforward notion of narration and representation. In his own words: "I have always thought that the main political dimension of my films lies in attacking linguistic codes. Ideology impregnates society through the dominant languages. I have never seen myself as working on a film that is 'transparent' of supposedly more 'comprehensible' codes. I understand their tactical function in certain political situations. But what I think has maintained the interest in my films beyond their juncture, is the way in which they are all related, within their contexts, through the complexity, rather than the complication, of language, and a subversion of the dominant codes."
   Portabella studied chemistry at college, and his first artistic vocation was painting: he befriended and collaborated with Antoni Tàpies and Antonio Saura. Following the path set by dissident directors after the Salamanca Conversations, in 1959 he decided to set up his own company, Films 59. He immediately financed some of the best projects of the season: Carlos Saura's feature length debut Los golfos (The Lazy Young Men, 1959) and Marco Ferreri's El cochecito (The Motorized Wheelchair, 1960). Films 59 also participated (with Gustavo Alatriste and Ricardo Muñoz Suay's UNINCI) in the financing of Luis Buñuel's return to Spain Viridiana (1961), but the problems generated by this film contributed to put an end to the company.
   In the early 1960s, Portabella became very active in the Catalan artistic context, supporting some of the key filmmakers of the Escuela de Barcelona. He never cared much about mass audiences and sought the use of film as a vehicle for artistic expression. In 1967, he made his debut as director with No compteu amb els dits (Do Not Count with Your Fingers, 1967). This was also his first collaboration with avant-garde Catalan poet Joan Brossa, whose work experimented with the limits between the visual, the poetic, and the dramatic. Nocturno 29 (Night Music 29, 1968), made the following year, was an astounding instance of radical cinema that absorbed the cultural effervescence of the Catalan capital in the late 1970s. His career as director continued in a similar vein with a series of films including Umbracle (Under the Canopy, 1970), Cuadecuc vampir (Cuadecuc Vampire, 1970), also co-written with Brossa, and El sopar (The Dinner, 1974). At this time, he was also a Socialist militant.
   During the Transition to democracy, Portabella devoted himself to politics, becoming a senator as a representative of the Catalan Socialists. In the 1990s he returned to filmmaking, supporting as producer the experimentalism of José Luis Guerín's Tren de sombras (Train of Shadows, 1997) and directing, among others, Pont de Varsovia (Varsovia Bridge, 1990) and Die Stille vor Bach (The Silence Before Bach, 2007).

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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