This much is so certain we could say it is scientifically proven: Edgar Pêra is the single greatest unknown master of modern Portuguese cinema. And no wonder, looking at how cliché-happy international culture film is, and always has been. Pêra is unlike any other filmmaker from that so fertile country at Europe’s westernmost reaches – and unlike anybody anywhere else at all, for that matter. Pêra is a genuine original. And if (film) culture dreads one thing – nowadays maybe even more than ever – then it’s an artist who cannot be defined by way of facile comparisons and generalisations, explained through simple similes, boxed into this genre or that aesthetic.
Even if Pêra is never shy about his inspirations, role models and heroes – many of whom he references or quotes extensively in his films (let’s mention Dziga Vertov, Robert Anton Wilson, Branquinho da Fonseca, Rudy Rucker, Fernando Pessoa) – his works never feel debt-laden. Pêra creatively continues all their arts, ideas, notions by transforming these into something different and new – without ever feeling the need to destroy. Is this a paradox? Maybe, but so be it: paradox are Pêra’s favorite dogs, after all. (He relishes and delights in nonsense like this!)
Take his latest bundle of works: the documentary/portrait O homempykante – Diálogos com Pimenta; the fiction feature Caminhos magnétykos; the unfinished, and in some ways impossible to finish, essay KINORAMA – Cinema Fora de Órbita (Self-Propaganda Mix) and the cinekoncert Lovecraftland. All made or finished in 2018/19, all punk’ish furies, all DaDa plays with form and expectation, all AV acts of surrealist subversion – creative disturbances of what’s considered commonsensical, generally accepted. The Pêra project is a stridently political one, starting with his early works connected to Lisbon’s then-vibrant alternative/underground music kulture (and which form the backbone for his current multi-part TV documentary project Arquivos Kino-Pop); Pêra’s works in Super-8 and video helped shape the identity of this dissident universe, preserved its memory, honored its immediacy.
Like Alberto Pimenta, the protagonist/center of O homem-pykante – Diálogos com Pimenta, or singer/songwriter Nel Monteiro, the one-man Greek choir of Arquitectura de Peso. Uma cine-sinfonetta muralista (vox populi vivace) (2007), Pêra is a true disobedient who never holds back, not even in projects where others might tread light as they’re connected to major institutions; Stadium (phantas-mix) (2005) and Arquitectura de Peso. Uma cine-sinfonetta muralista (vox populi vivace), both commissioned works for prestigious exhibitions/events, leave no doubts about Pêra’s ideas concerning costly follies such as Braga’s Estádio Municipal or EXPO ’98. Which brings us to another key element of Pêra’s praxis: he loves to work, and grabs every opportunity he gets; for each commission – be it a prestige ad for a limited edition of gourmet fish cans like Mar Portuguez (2016), or a creative bit of tourism-enhancing promotion like Delírio em Las Vedras (2016), or a documentary made to be screened as part of an exhibition like A cidade de Cassiano (1991) – can be turned into something interesting, or at least is a good enough reason to try stuff out (test a camera, some film stock, etc.). The arguably most outrageouscum-outré example of this is Virados do avesso (2014), a burlesque in the original sense of the word that became a box office sensation – and this happened only because Pêra accepted an implicit challenge from one of his producers to make a piece of popular entertainment. Nobody expected this from Pêra: N-O-B-O-D-Y!
It helps that Pêra is a restless soul, and mighty impatient with his own oeuvre – again and again he’s reworked many of his films; even those who can claim to know his films well can never be sure what they’re going to see when they re-watch something. For example, he takes Rotterdam 2019 as a good excuse to rework Manual de evasão LX94 – Investigação trans-temporal (2019/2012/1994) and Lisboa-boa 345 D.T. (Remix 2018) (2000/2018).
We, the People
All that having been said: Pêra’s art is a people’s art, even if we might not immediately think so, blinded by bourgeois pretentions and prejudices as we too often are. Pêra is with the people: the miners (O trabalho liberta?, 1993); the football fans (És a nossa fé, 2004); the war-maimed (Guerra ou paz?, 1992). His films are soaked in all kinds of popular culture, be it local comedies (A janela (Maryalva Mix), 2001), carnival (Delírio em Las Vedras), comics (Guerra ou paz?), music (every single work he ever did). Pêra understands cinema as a gigantic, ongoing and unstoppable experiment conducted by a filmmaker together with his audience: the people. It is no accident that the gaudy audience of his grand essay on cinema’s essence, O espectador espantado (2016), is also its protagonist – nor that the 2019 IFFR audience will be the hero of its sequel: KINORAMA – Cinema Fora de Órbita (Self-Propaganda Mix), which we can help to shape.
Photo in header: Still: Lovecraftland