Dominic Corry

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

A piece of Portugal in Paris

'The Gilded Cage' is a comedy for a generation, writes Dominic Corry.

Ruben Alves tells the untold story of Portuguese people living in France.
Ruben Alves tells the untold story of Portuguese people living in France.

The Gilded Cage is a French comedy about a significant section of France not often portrayed on screen - its population of Portuguese immigrants and their offspring.

The ensemble film written and directed by Ruben Alves (who also plays a small role) focuses on Maria and Jose Ribeiro, a married couple played by Rita Blanco and Joaquim De Almeida. The Ribeiros live with their grown children in the cosy concierge's quarters of an upscale Parisian apartment building. Maria is the live-in concierge and Jose is a skilled construction worker who is often called on to do handyman work around the building.

When the couple inherit a vineyard back in Portugal, they face a difficult decision about whether to return to the country they left 30 years earlier, plus they must also contend with the resentments and jealousies of their friends and employers, who don't want them to leave.

The son of Portuguese immigrants, Alves made the film as a tribute to his parents' generation, many of whom came to France from Portugal seeking a better life.

I recently met the disarmingly charming Alves in a Parisian hotel room to discuss the film, and I asked him if his goal was to educate the world about the French Portuguese population.

"Yes! In France we have a lot of Portuguese, but they are very quiet. It comes from their history, because they left Portugal in the 70s or so.

"They left a poor country to come to France, and they just worked, worked, worked. That's why it was important to do this movie because Portuguese immigrants in France are very important but they're quiet."

So this film was about giving them a voice?

"Exactly. To put the light on this community, mostly to honour my parents and their lives. And all the workers around the world, all the people who had to leave their country to search for a better life for their children.

"It's very personal, because it's my life, it's my family on the screen - the way they think, the way they talk. It's observation. It's very much inspired by my life."

The film doesn't just concern itself with Maria and Jose though. Also central to the story are their children, who find themselves torn between the allure of modern France and their Portuguese lineage.

"I wanted to talk about this generation, because my generation, the ones born here, it's my origin.

I have a lot of cousins, friends, who don't talk Portuguese and I think it's a pity."

Since its French release in April, Alves has been gratified by the reaction among young Portuguese people in France.

"I received a lot of messages from young people who said, 'I feel proud to be Portuguese today after seeing your movie. Before I felt ashamed to say that I'm Portuguese'. Because maybe to be Portuguese in France wasn't glamorous enough.

"But it's a big history, a nice country with good values and that's what I wanted to put in this movie - so that I can be strong and proud of my ancestry, which helps me to be strong and be better in my life."

The final section of the film takes place in Portugal, which looks dazzling on screen.

"The Secretary of Tourism for Portugal called me and thanked me for the movie because this year they had many more French tourists."

José Ribeiro is played by Portuguese actor Joaquim De Almeida, recognisable to English-speaking audiences having played innumerable bad guys over the years in action movies such as Clear and Present Danger; Behind Enemy Lines; Fast Five and the TV series 24.

Alves was able to see the sensitivity in De Almeida required to portray a character based on his father.

"It was a challenge to have him play a humble character because he is usually the bad guy. When I met him at a festival, one minute after I met him he said to me 'There is nothing to eat there!' It was so Portuguese! I said to myself, 'Okay, this is my character'. He has a big, warm heart. He's like a child. He said to me one time, 'I feel the movie. I can feel everything because I am Portuguese and you are talking about Portuguese, and I am an immigrant'."

It's clear that it was Alves' construction worker father's reaction to the film that was most important to the filmmaker:

"When he saw the movie, he looked at the audience and said "it's my life".

* The Gilded Cage is in cinemas now.

- NZ Herald

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