The newest film from Portuguese director Tiago Guedes, A Herdade is a sprawling family saga. João Fernandes (Albano Jeronimo) has inherited his father’s grand estate, one of the biggest in Portugal, which includes vast farm lands, a crew of workers and servants and the main house. As the patriarch he rules his family and his subordinates with a firm hand. João fares better with his right hand man Joaquim (Miguel Borges), Joaquim’s wife Rosa (Ana Vilela da Costa) and his communist mechanic Leonel (João Vicente) and than he does with his wife Leonor (Sandra Faleiro) and his kids Teresa (Beatriz Bras) and Miguel (João Pedro Mamede). He has a particularly rough time with Miguel who is already showing signs that he’s not the right fit to become the next patriarch and the tension between the two escalates as the years pass on.
The film starts in 1946 when young João is brought by his father to witness the hanging body of his dead older brother. Then it takes us to the even of the Carnation Revolution of 1974 when a military coup overthrows the current regime which puts Leonor’s parents in danger and puts into question land ownership and worker’s rights. It then fast forwards to 1991 when Teresa falls in love with Antonio (Rodrigo Tomas), Miguel suffers emotionally and mentally from being trapped at his father’s estate and João must come to terms with a great tragedy and a dark secret.
Waves of nostalgia washed over me as I watched A Herdade remembering my father’s estate (which was tiny in comparison) and 1990s era Portugal. I wanted to love this movie but I really only liked it. It’s gorgeously shot, firmly rooted in Portuguese culture and history and all the actors did a wonderful job with their various roles. However the film is overly long (nearly 3 hours) and takes too much time to solve its final dilemma. There is no real plot here. It’s close to a half century in the life of João and the drama only comes from the political strife and dysfunctional family dynamic.
Seeing a Portuguese film is such a rare treat for me. If you have any interest in Portuguese history, clear your schedule and check this one out.
A Herdade had its North American premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Special Presentations series.