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The Conversation: Producer Paulo Branco

One of the most prolific, contemporary European art-house producers has to be Paulo Branco, who has been fostering considerable auteur driven fare since 1975, whilst serving as creator of several famed production and distribution companies in Portugal and France (the latest being Alfama Films). He holds the notable distinction of having had the greatest number of films selected in the official program of the Cannes Film Festival (a whopping 53, and 27 of these were main competition titles), while he’s taken another 48 to Venice. We expect to see Branco’s name on the Croisette this year, as well, with contenders like Wim Wenders’ The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez and the directorial debut of Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet tipped to appear somewhere. Branco was recently in Berlin with An Outpost of Progress, while making headlines days ago after boarding Terry Gilliam’s long gestating The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

It’s no surprise to realize Branco has worked with a stunning number of high profile auteurs, particularly with filmmakers Raul Ruiz and Manoel de Oliveira, but the pedigree extends with a formidable list of names such as Andrzej Zulawski, David Cronenberg, Werner Schroeter, Pedro Costa, Chantal Akerman, Jerzy Skolimowski, Olivier Assayas, Andre Techine, Philippe Garrel, Christophe Honore, and many, many others.

Branco’s early successes began in the early 80s, working with Raul Ruiz (1981’s The Territory), de Oliveira (1981’s Francisca) and Wim Wenders (1982’s The State of Things). Committed to offbeat auteurs and idiosyncratic new filmmakers, Branco is a rarity even amongst a fine tradition of European production and distribution labels. With 2016 shaping up to be as fine a year as any for Branco (we can look forward to Fanny Ardant’s Stalin’s Couch and Benoit Jacquot’s The Body Artist, as well). For this week’s The Conversation, we focus on the producer’s top five, most significant or astounding achievements over the part forty years.

5. Cosmopolis – Dir. David Cronenberg (2012)
Premiering in competition at Cannes, Cosmopolis is an intriguing turning point for Cronenberg, adapting Dom Delillo’s celebrated novel on the shoulders of his new muse, Robert Pattinson. With a variety of French and Canadian supporting cast members (including Juliette Binoche), a 28 year old billionaire glides through Manhattan in his limousine on his way to get a haircut as his world slowly crumbles.

4. Ma Mere – Dir. Christophe Honore (2004)
This strange and frankly, quite off-putting, early feature from Christophe Honore is an adaptation of George Bataille’s final, unfinished novel. Starring Honore’s male muse Louis Garrel and a perversely entertaining Isabelle Huppert, this bizarre incest laden tale certainly isn’t for all tastes (as evidenced by its muted festival circuit run). Still, those who enjoyed Huppert in Haneke’s The Piano Teacher hungering for another sexually depraved portrayal should find solace here.

3. Cosmos – Dir. Andrzej Zulawski (2015)
Ending his fifteen year hiatus from filmmaking (Branco also produced his previous film, Fidelity, in 2000), Polish provocateur Andrzej Zulawski made a startling comeback with the exceptional Cosmos, an adaptation of a novel by Witold Gombrowicz. Strange happenings at a family guesthouse attended by a law student eventually evolves into something a bit warped, which stars Sabine Azema and nabbed Zulawski Best Director honors at the Locarno Film Festival. Sadly, Zulawski passed away in February, 2015 just as US distribution was announced for the title by Kino Lorber. Read my review.

2. Love Songs – Dir. Christophe Honore (2007)
Branco secured Honore a slot in the main competition at Cannes with this zesty ménage-a-trois musical starring Louis Garrel, Chiara Mastroianni, and Ludivine Sagnier. A joyous exploration of sexual freedom, romance, and despair, it features a stunning original soundtrack from Alex Beaupain (who re-teamed with Honore on 2011’s less well-received Beloved), and granted Honore much wider recognition. It’s a film as endlessly effervescent as it is appealing.

1. The Rose King – Dir. Werner Schroeter (1986)
Branco, along with Udo Heiland, produced this superb title by neglected New German Wave alum Werner Schroeter (who passed away in 2010, but was the first German filmmaker to win the Golden Bear, with 1980’s Palermo or Wolfsburg). The swan song of German star Magdalena Montezuma, who co-wrote this film based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, deals with a mother and inseparable son who move to a mansion to grow roses…until the son falls in love with the local handyman, who begins to graft roses onto his body. Operatic and arguably campy in its parody of German Romanticism, its melancholy aesthetic is matched by underlying grotesqueries, an exquisite study on death, desire, and obsession.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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