The Portuguese director Paulo Rocha, who died in 2012, created a memorable body of work, with aesthetic roots both in Italian neorealism and the French New Wave. It’s worth exploring in and of itself and with respect to its continuity with Portugal’s cinema as a whole. He’s different from greats like Manoel De Oliveira (with whom he worked as an assistant) and Pedro Costa, but he shares definite affinities with them.
Grasshopper Film released a newly restored version of his 1963 debut feature, “The Green Years,” last week, and this week unveils his 1966 second feature “Change of Life.” (Both restorations were overseen by Costa.)
While “Years” is a class-conscious, sometimes wistful tale of urban love, “Change” is set in a coastal Portuguese fishing village, where residents live harsh, hand-to-mouth existences. “The sea gets rougher, and the fish get scarcer,” an old hand in the film comments.
Returning to this unnamed place, the long-gone Adelino (Geraldo Del Rey), back from fighting and then working in Angola, is not entirely surprised to feel like a stranger in his own home.
His former lover is married to his brother. A back ailment makes going out on the boats almost impossible. He’s got to get out of this place and so, too, as it happens, does Albertina (Isabel Ruth), a beautiful and defiant young woman he encounters while she’s taking relics from a church.
The fishing milieu recalls Luchino Visconti’s epic 1948 documentary, “La Terra Trema,” about Sicilian tuna fishers. Rocha’s film is a smaller scale work of sharp observation and empathy. Shot in often startling black and white by Manuel Carlos De La Silva and Elso Roque, its cinematic beauty is deeply intertwined with the film’s humane vision.