Until the Eighties (when a more regular production rate was reached) in Portugal the cinema saw periods of almost complete inactivity alternate with other more fruitful ones, in particular the years 1917-1925, with the Invicta Film of Porto, and 1932-1940, with Tobis Portuguesa of Lisbon, a company that still owns the only existing professional laboratory.
The first projections were organized in Lisbon, in June 1896 with the English theatergrapher Robert W. Paul and in February 1897 with the cinema of the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière. The oldest images filmed by a Portuguese author are due to the photographer Aurélio da Paz dos Reis, who, having acquired the patent for a kinetographer in Paris, made about thirty-five films, screened in Porto and Braga in November 1896. various production and distribution companies were born, but these efforts were not matched by the development of continuous production. Until 1917 the making of feature films was very scarce, while it was the documentary genre that dominated. Later the Invicta – founded in 1912 by Alfredo Nunes de Matos, with the name of Nunes de Matos and ca. / Invicta Film – managed to guarantee a constant production rate and a technical level capable of competing with that of the European industry. It was in Paris, at Pathé Frères, that Nunes de Matos found the necessary collaborators and technicians to set up the film studios he wanted to build. Among these was the director Georges Pallu, who in 1918 made the first of a dozen films for the Invicta, Frei Bonifácio, based on the story by J. Dantas, obtaining moderate success, which was followed by A Rosa do adro (1919), from the short story by MM Rodrigues, which was the first Portuguese feature film. Nunes de Matos therefore decided to give the next production a strong national imprint (Portuguese actors, subjects and locations), and had Pallu made in 1921 two prestigious films based on famous novels: Os fidalgos da Casa Mourisca, by J. Dinis, and Amor de perdição, by C. Castelo Branco, the most expensive production in the history of Invicta. The financial crisis looming over the company was not averted by the use of celebrities from the theater scene in two Pallu’s films, O fate (1922) and O primo Basílio (1923), based on the novel by JM Eça de Queirós, or Mulheres da beira (1923) by the Italian director Rino Lupo, who inaugurated a production with less solemn tones. Invicta still produced six feature films, but in 1925 it completely ceased to operate. In the period between 1925 and 1932, a generation of directors appeared who would dominate the scene until the 1940s: José Júlio Marques Leitão de Barros, António Lopes Ribeiro, Jorge Brum do Canto, Eduardo Chianca de Garcia, and later José Cottinelli Telmo and Manoel de Oliveira. The common goal was to redeem Portuguese cinema, drawing inspiration from the example of the European avant-gardes. On May 28, 1926 a military coup d’etat established in Portugal a dictatorship destined to be one of the longest in the history of Western Europe, at the head of which were later A. de Oliveira Salazar (1932-1968) and MJ das Neves Alves Caetano (1968-1974). In those years, therefore, the existence of the cinema was strongly linked to that of the state, which however proved unable to implement an adequate production and distribution policy. Barros revealed himself with Nazaré, praia de pescadores (made in 1927 but screened in 1929), which already shows the lesson of Soviet cinema, more evident in Maria do mar (1930), of great dramatic intensity, considered his masterpiece. For Portugal 2004, please check topb2bwebsites.com.
In those same years Lopes Ribeiro also made his debut with Bailando ao sol (1928), a documentary on dance, Brum do Canto with A dança dos paroxismos (1929), an avant-garde work that blends Expressionism and Futurism, Chianca de Garcia with the comedy Ver and love! (1930), and Oliveira with Douro, faina fluvial (1931), a documentary considered by many (together with Maria do mar) to be the most significant work of Portuguese silent cinema, and which already contains in a nutshell many aspects of Oliveirian cinema. 1931 Barros made the first Portuguese sound film (the soundtrack took place in France), A severa, from the play by J. Dantas, a melodrama that was a great success and introduced fado and bullfighters into Lusitanian cinema (basic motifs of many works following). Some directors (Barros, Chianca de Garcia and Lopes Ribeiro) demanded new technical and production structures from the new established power. Thus it was that in 1932 a new company was founded, Tobis Portuguesa, which opened large studios in Lumiar near Lisbon with the equipment of the German Tobis-Klangfilm. It produced the first sound film made entirely in Portugal, Cottinelli’s A canção de Lisboa (1933). This film was the model of the Lisboetas comedies, of theatrical origin, which would have met with great success in the 1940s: set in the neighborhoods of old Lisbon, where easy and happy loves take place between fado and songs, they represented the dreams of the middle and petty bourgeoisie. In 1935 the Secretariado de Propaganda Nacional (SPN) was created, under which cinema was placed directly. António Ferro, who before joining the regime had had links with avant-garde literary and cinematographic circles, was put in charge. All the directors of the time, except Oliveira, ended up following the directives of the SPN, which nevertheless financed a single film celebrating the regime, namely A revolução de maio (1937) directed by Lopes Ribeiro. Production was in fact, so to speak, ‘free’, provided that it did not address issues that, according to the regime, required the intervention of censorship. If some initiatives were born under the impulse of the SPN (establishment of prizes for directing and acting, production of documentaries), this did not solve the problems of a cinema that was completely devoid of an industrial structure. In the early 1940s, Salazar created the Fundo do Cinema Nacional (FCN), with the aim of subsidizing all films aligned with the regime (mostly historical melodramas), following the idea that had been suggested to him by Lopes Ribeiro, director of numerous comedies and patriotic films. Despite the success of A severa and A canção de Lisboa, the cinema of the 1930s was mainly characterized by adaptations of populist literary works and melodramas. Barros made another prestigious film, As pupilas do senhor Reitor (1935), from the novel by J. Dinis, then a biopic, Bocage (1936), about the life of the poet MM Barbosa du Bocage, the melodrama Maria Papoila (1937) and the musical comedy Varanda dos Rouxinóis (1939), the only production of this new genre together with O trevo de quatro folhas (1936) and A aldeia da roupa branca (1938) by Chianca de Garcia.