Film Reviews

Hot Docs Review: ‘A Pleasure, Comrades!’

A taste of revolution


A Pleasure, Comrades!
(Portugal, 106 min.)
Dir. José Filipe Costa
Program: The Changing Face of Europe

In 1975, in the wake of the Carnation Revolution overthrowing Portugal’s dictatorship, the southern European country welcomed youth from all over the world eager to work the fields of change. Local farmers, recently organized in cooperatives, were confronted with new ideas and habits while spirited young souls learned to keep their utopian dreams in check. José Filipe Costa revisited Portugal’s past in his second feature-length documentary film A Pleasure, Comrades!

A big, honking, commercial truck passes a Seventies love bus on a highway ramp outside Lisbon. The film’s opening credits sets the tone the Portuguese filmmaker chose to adopt to establish and emphasize differences between the two parties. Lightheartedness punctuates Costa’s imaginative documentary where participants stage themselves as they had been in the Carnation Revolution. The observations they and others made in the Seventies form the basis of the scenes and their performances.

Dramatizing their own memories, the foreign youth and locals of the same age group revisit key moments of this politically turbulent page in Portugal’s history book. Young liberated English or German women, looking to put political ideals into practice, travelled down south only to be confronted with local matriarchs who had very different approach to women’s liberation. Illiterate local farmers on the other hand looked for the revolution in the intoxicating curves of the foreign women. Very playful and full of humor, the focal points of the film are the small revolutions within the Revolution. The life on the rural cooperatives wasn’t void of conflict but this amalgam of charming moments shows how the participants sought, sometimes to no avail, human alliances across a sharp class divide. Clashing ideologies disrupted daily farm operations as much as they did political convictions.

Shot in the original locations, Costa’s images float past the revolutionary slogans painted in red on whitewashed farm walls. Silent witnesses of the societal shift, the farms form once more the stage for experiments. Within the co-ops, notes of self-reflection and newly formed friendships weave together a portrait of a reinvented, reimagined Portugal. Costa’s approach is subtly reminiscent of the techniques of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. Oppressions are reenacted in the hopes of coming to a better understanding of the motives behind dynamics of power and, ultimately, to bring about social change. A form of collective therapy too, the doc explores the outlines of active healing. The importance of A Pleasure, Comrades! is found in the collective effort of the participants’ involvement as well as in the creative storytelling. Costa delivers a very charismatic film by combining both.

A Pleasure, Comrades! screens at Hot Docs’ online festival.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.