As Thomas Harlan‘s vivid and compelling documentary Torre Bela gets underway, a land-owning Portuguese Duke, filmed in black and white, defends — with some impatience and much dissimulation — his employment practices before a group of dubious would-be land-reformers. Upon exiting the aristocrat’s self-contained, self-satisfied quarters, we are plunged into the living color of a group of jobless peasants as they passionately debate plans to occupy said nobleman’s estate (Torre Bela!) and establish a worker’s cooperative there.
In this captivating time-capsule from Portugal’s mid-’70s Carnation Revolution — a time and place in which proudly proletarian identities had yet to fully founder in the imported, artificial glare of (neo)liberal individualism — German filmmaker Harlan sinuously inserts himself and his camera into one community’s tumultuous, tantrum-prone attempt to erase the remnants of feudalism — and fascism — and realize the revolution’s collectivist vision. Ultimately what he records is the coop’s depressing backslide into endless, recrimination-laced meetings, and, eventually, its forced dissolution at the hands of the military.
The workers’ paradise failed to materialize, but Harlan — son of notorious Nazi-prop auteur Veit Harlan (maker of The Eternal Jew, et infamous cetera) — is hardly to blame for that. His vérité account of eighteen or so heady months at Torre Bela offers fascinating and finally haunting witness, both to a people’s struggle and to the yawning gap separating aspiration from execution. Do we have it in us to be just and free?
Also showing: José Filipe Costa‘s 2012 film Red Line, a sly look back at the Carnation Revolution and Harlan’s version of (and intervention in) it.
dir. Thomas Harlan
Part of the two-part series: After the Revolution