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Ronita Torcato

A little chit, a little chat, a little bit of this & that;meaning news, views & lotsa reviews from an independent journo based in Bombay aka Mumbai


'Francisco Manso: Films must spotlight respect for life & human rights to foster understanding & empathy

"Respect for life and human rights are  very important and I make movies addressing these issues because it is important for people as well as governments, not to repeat the errors of the past." Thus spake Francisco Manso, director of ‘The Consul of Bordeaux’ the 42nd IFFI's opening film which played to full houses at repeat screenings.

Addressing  a crowded media meet at the Maquinez Palace on his birthday (the Lisbon born director turned 62 on November 28)  Manso said  he  likes to make films on historical and social issues like slavery and capital punishment "since the remembrance of the past enables us to understand our role in the present and a proper perspective for the  future. For courageous persons like the Consul of Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, it was a question of  principles, of conviction, and risk-taking."

On April 28, 1935, Cardinal Pacelli ( the future Pope Pius XII) told pilgrims in Lourdes, France, that the Nazis “are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of social revolution, whether they are guided by a false concept of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult.” As Pope during the war, he spoke out in defense of the Jews. When the Vatican paper  L’Osservatore Romano protested the internment of Jews and the confiscation of their property, the Fascist press would call L'OR,‘a mouthpiece of the Jews.’

After the Nazis overran Italy, the Pope ordered  religious houses including monasteries and cloistered convents which forbid entry to all but a few to hide  Jews.At least  7,000 Jews  were hidden in approx 180 churches, basilicas,and parishes.Some Jews were sheltered in Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence, in private homes, and in hospitals.

Apart from the Red Cross and the Catholic Church, there were several members of the consular corps in Europe who saved thousands of Jews: Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz - a member of the Nazi Party and Trade Attache at  the German Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark through whose efforts 99% of Danish Jews were given safe haven  in neutral Sweden, Hiram Bingham, US Vice Consul in Marseilles, France, Frank Foley, British Vice Consul in Berlin,Dr Feng-Shan Ho, Consul General of China in Vienna,  Carl Lutz, Consul for Switzerland in Budapest, Per Anger, Swedish Charge d'Affaires in Budapest,Hungary and Raoul Wallenberg in the Swedish Embassy.Several TV films have been made on Wallenberg, while Steven Spielberg chose to make a film on the German industrialist Oskar Schindler.

Stationed in 1940 in the port city in southwest France, Sousa Mendes saved 30,000 people, among them, 10,000 Jews, from the Nazis. His moral courage inspired Manso who has produced and directed various films for cinema and television in Portugal to helm the biopic.
 Responding to questions, the quartet discussed the film's narrative strands, plot and character and even Henri Seroka’s music score. (Two journalists suggested alternative endings, to which Manso responded with a smile “That would result in a different kind of film.”)

Portugal produces ten feature films a year ( compare the statistic to India's output) because as producer Jose Mazeda explained, " the production process is very expensive." He has shot two features  and six documentaries in Goa.
"I would love to make more films" he said, pointing out that he had got Spanish,Belgian and Polish funding for "The Consul of Bordeaux" while Manso said he has made co-productions with Portuguese speaking countries in Africa.
Lead actor Norte told this correspondent that he had seen Schindler's List several years ago and prepared for his role by researching the various forces which shaped the principal character and interacting with members of Sousa Mendes' family.

As Manso recounted it, "Sousa Mendes was a committed Catholic, a deeply religious person who would defy the government saying," I would stand with God against man, rather than with man against God."
To save the lives of the desperate, hungry and homeless, he would stake his reputation, his high position, health, friends and even, the future of his family. Sousa Mendes was dismissed by the Salazar administration, and died destitute in 1954, his family impoverished and  his  home reduced to ruins, until very recently, when the Portuguese government and private donors would  restore it as a museum commemorating WW2 and human rights.

According to some  estimates at least  one million refugees fled from the Nazis through  Portugal during World War II.



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About Ronita Torcato

Torcato Agnela Ronita
An incomplete round-up of movie news, features & views from an independent journo & (dare I say it:-) film critic in Mumbai



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