The
 Vincent

PEREZ
Archives

Portugal

2012

135 minutes

Synopsis: On September 27, 1810, the French troops commanded by Marshal Massena, were defeated in the Serra do Buçaco by the Anglo-Portuguese army of general Wellington.

Despite the victory, Portuguese and British are forced to retreat from the enemy, numerically superior, in order to attract them to Torres Vedras, where Wellington had built fortified lines hardly surmountable.

Simultaneously, the Anglo-Portuguese command organizes the evacuation of the entire territory between the battlefield and the lines of Torres Vedras, a gigantic burned land operation, which prevents the French from collecting supplies.

This is the setting for the adventures of a multitude of characters from all social backgrounds - soldiers and civilians, men, women and children, young and old - to the daily routine torn by war and dragged through hills and valleys, between ruined villages, charred forests and devastated crops.

Highly persecuted by the French, already tormented by an unmerciful weather, the mass of fugitives continues to move forward clenching the teeth, just to save their skin, loaded with tenacious will to resist the invaders and retreat them from their country. Or even hoping to take advantage of the disarray to satisfy their basic instincts.

All of them, whatever nature or motivations - the idealistic young lieutenant Pedro de Alencar, Clarissa Warren, the malicious little english girl, the shady dealer Penabranca, the vindictive Sergeant Francisco Xavier or the lusty prostitute Martírio -, all gather by different paths to the lines of Torres, where the final battle will decide the fate of each one of them.

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Slant Magazine review:
Dull but never dreary, Lines of Wellington was one of the projects in Raúl Ruiz's pipeline before he passed away last year. The director is his widow, Valeria Sarmiento, a respected, if not internationally known, filmmaker in her own right. You can't help but compare this to A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which began life in Stanley Kubrick's hands, but was made stem to stern by another director following his death. But while A.I. is now regarded as one of the key films of its era, the serendipitous overlap of two distinctive yet dissimilar visionaries, Lines of Wellington was born under no such lucky sign. As with Spielberg's film, the influence of the deceased artist is unmistakable, but his handiwork is absent. It looks like we're in Ruiz territory, with its leaf-on-the-wind approach to collating multiple storylines, and there's at least the insinuation that each thread is rife with Ruizian coincidence, but Sarmiento's direction is no more distinguished than if this was a Game of Thrones episode. Less Spielberg, more Bruce Beresford.

The story—saga format, spanning an untold number of months or years—concerns a major passage in the Peninsular War between France, Spain, and Portugal, wherein the English Duke of Wellington ordered a series of massive barricades to defend Lisbon from seizure by the French invaders. The Duke, played by John Malkovich, appears in a few scenes only, mostly to express petulant dissatisfaction at the painter he's commissioned for his portrait. The majority of the story concerns the soldiers in the field, the women who are affected (and sometimes damaged irreparably) by the ongoing strife, and a massive wave of refugees, routed by the French army. Little stories, large, of course, in the eyes of their protagonists and witnesses, dot the landscape. Common ground with the largely peacetime Mysteries of Lisbon includes a key player whose perceptions are colored by a traumatic head injury, and the way its long, long lines of narrative and sub-narrative are delineated in anecdotal parcels.

It's an odd experience, a Ruiz film (if it deserves to be called that) devoid of dreamy mystery, reduced to a mere handsome historical epic, albeit capably mounted by Portuguese producer extraordinaire Paulo Branco. Every component of Lines of Wellington appears to have been ordered from a wholesale catalog dealing in epic movies. Frames are composed according to the manual, and there's just the right musical accompaniment for scenes of tragedy or bawdy comedy, as well as a predictable array of guest stars.

Granted, such things can be pleasurable on their own: The cast is top-heavy with lovely ladies (Soraia Chaves, Victória Guerra, Jemima West), and the widescreen photography is often soothing in its tendency toward handsome backlighting and languid tracking shots. This all could have gone very, very wrong, but Lines of Wellington's eye-filling cinematography and production values are enough to waft the viewer across 151 relatively pain-free minutes. Also contributing to the film's soothing balm is Carlos Saboga's script. Saboga adapted Mysteries of Lisbon for Ruiz, and it seems he has a knack for keeping the thing moving at a reasonable clip, without making it seem like it's in an all-fired hurry.
 

Cast:

Credits: 

Directed by..........................Valeria  Sarmiento
Written by.................................Carlos Saboga
Produced by................................Alfama Films
Music by.......................... ......Jorge Arriagada
Cinematography by..........Andrew Szankowski

Premiere dates:

Canada - September 2012 (Toronto International Film Festival)
USA- September 2012 (New York Film Festival)
Italy 4 - September 2012 (Venice Film Festival)
Portugal - October 4, 2012
France - November 21, 2012

 

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