festival dates

Courtisane festival, notes on cinema, 23nd edition, 27 - 31 March 2024

02: Paulo Rocha

4 April, 2019 - 17:00

“A perfectly ‘disorienting’ film... Disorientation occurs when the next door opens, out of the blue, onto the distance. In A Ilha dos Amores, next door is Portugal and it opens onto Asia. We think we know Portugal, and we are wrong. We know that we don’t know much about Portuguese literature, but we do not even suspect that between Portugal, its colonies and its outposts there is a literature of exile, a tenuous axis that has linked Lisbon to Macau or Nagasaki for centuries. We don’t know about Wenceslau de Moraes (but at the end of Rocha’s film we love him). We no longer have the right to ignore that Portugal is a small country that produces many wonderful films. ‘Artisanal, anarchic and visionary cinema,’ as Paulo Rocha puts it.” — Serge Daney

We discovered the work of Portuguese filmmaker Paulo Rocha (1935-2012) thanks to Pedro Costa, who presented the restored version of his second feature film Mudar de Vida (1966) at the Courtisane Festival in 2015. Despite the steadily growing critical acclaim that followed the release of this film, Rocha disappeared from the scene until 1982, when he made his astonishing return with A Ilha Dos Amores. It took Rocha over a decade to make this film, which takes the viewer on a slow journey in the footsteps of Wenceslau de Moraes (1854-1929), a leading light in Portuguese Orientalist literature. Thanks to new restorations of A Ilha Dos Amores and its ‘twin’ A Ilha de Moraes (1984), this remarkable work can now be beheld in all its singular beauty and its “rare plastic lavishness, always daring, and owing nothing to anyone” (Serge Daney).

A Ilha dos Amores (The Island of Love)

Paulo Rocha

Paulo Rocha started to work in the early 1970s on a project about the life of Wenceslau de Moraes, a Portuguese writer and former Navy officer who settled in Japan in the late 19th century. Disappointed with the political situation of his time, Moraes, a secret man of unstable temperament and absorbed by his own demons, would never return from the Far East until his death. The Carnation Revolution in 1974 and its political aftershocks forced Rocha to change the project and, a year later, like Moraes, he left for Japan. He did no more in the years to come than prepare, write, rewrite, and modify this complex and immense film-fleuve, finally shot between Lisbon and Tokyo from 1978 to 1981. It’s a fusion film, a clash of two worlds and two cultures (West and East). The chapters correspond to The Nine Songs, a collections of poems by the Chinese poet Qu Yuan. Death pursues this ritualistic and erotic journey in the wake of Greco-Roman mythology and the most famous poem in Portuguese literature, Os Lusíadas by Camões. If Moraes, the wandering Portuguese, is a doomed man, he is also a mirror of his doomed country. A Ilha dos Amores is one of the most modern and daring films ever made. (Francisco Ferreira)


Restored in its original version by Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema.