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Valeria Sarmiento



2012 || Portugal-France || 112 mins || Color || Feature


Alfama Films (Paris)


Venice 2012 – Competition
Toronto 2012
New York 2012


On September 27, 1810, the French troops under Marshal Massena, are defeated in Serra do Buçaco, by the Anglo-Portuguese army of General Wellington. The Anglo-Portuguese command organizes the evacuation of the entire territory between the battlefield and the Lines of Torres Vedras; a gigantic scorched earth operation, which makes it impossible for the French to locally access supplies. This is the setting for the adventures of a multitude of characters from all social backgrounds - soldiers and civilians; men, women and children; young and old –, people whose daily lives have been torn by war and forced to wander through hills and valleys, surrounded by ruined villages, charred forests and devastated crops. All of them, no matter their nature or motivations – the idealistic young lieutenant Pedro de Alencar, the vindictive Sergeant Francisco Xavier, the exuberant grocer Martírio, the malicious young English woman Clarissa Warren, and the gloomy dealer Penabranca - and whatever the paths that led them there, converge on the Lines of Torres Vedras, where the final battle will decide the fate of each one of them.

The director Valeria Sarmiento, and the wife of deceased Chilean helmer Raúl Ruiz, carried on the Mysteries of Lisbon's creator latest work, LINES OF WELLINGTON, featuring a star studded cast and fantastic screenplay. With an original screenplay created by the awarded Mysteries of Lisbon’s writer, Carlos Saboga, the film gathers a lavishly remarkable cast that collects the major Portuguese actors and special participations of some unique international talents such as Michel Piccoli, Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich and Isabelle Huppert.


John Malkovich
Marisa Paredes
Melvil Poupaud
Nuno Lopes
Michel Piccoli
Catherine Deneuve
Isabelle Huppert


A star-studded international cast including John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve feature in a historical epic, co-produced by Portugal and France…

A sprawlingly wide canvas of historical war is painted in old-fashioned but engagingly functional style… Like Ruiz's last international success Mysteries of Lisbon (2010), Lines of Wellington is available as both a theatrical picture and as a miniseries for television - the latter, expanding the 151-minute movie to three episodes running 170 minutes in total… But these major figures of history are largely relegated to the peripheries by scriptwriter Carlos Saboga, who emphasizes the human cost of conflict by means of fictional figures drawn from the British and Portuguese sides… Saboga moves quite fluidly between plots and subplots as the various characters travel through war-scarred Portugal towards the "lines" of the title, vast fortifications secretly constructed in the Lisbon hinterland in order to protect the strategically crucial capital… And whereas Ruiz was known for films that combined visual elegance with highbrow erudition, Sarmiento here allows herself just a single "flight of fancy" as Cotta's injured soldier hallucinates an opulent soiree. Elsewhere she sticks to the muddy, grueling reality of bygone wartime with results that may be more pedestrian than visionary but serve their purpose as an elaborate, illustrated history-lesson.


Stirring… the film’s depiction of the suffering war brings to ordinary people – especially women – rises above the sentimental… The chaos of these turbulent years, and the complexity of a conflict that as well as the main stand-off spawned sideshows like marauding anti-Jacobin Catholic gangs, is well conveyed. Indeed, the film’s strongest feature is its depiction of the banality of war as well as its human cost – as in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, of which there are distinct echoes in Carlos Saboga’s screenplay. Technical credits are strong across the board, with cinematographer Andre Skankowski’s thoughtful framing and painterly lighting a particular strongpoint.


The majority of voiceover is provided by Portuguese Sgt. Francisco Xavier, aka "Chico" (Nuno Lopes), a former farmer. A counterpoint is the story of aristocratic Lt. Pedro de Alancar (Carloto Cotta), wounded in battle and cared for by a series of ladies, none more luminous than Marisa Paredes' Dona Filipa. While not exactly foot soldiers, these low-ranking officers are the saga's main focus, with historical figures providing touches of pseudo-authenticity, much in the style of "War and Peace"… Sarmiento and Saboga are less interested in humanizing legends than they are in finding the humanity among the masses affected by the carnage: brutal rapes (by the enemy French or allied English, never the Portuguese) share this thickly woven canvas with unexpected acts of kindness, and while Napoleon's forces are beaten, the pic refuses to celebrate a victory won at such a high cost… It's at the table scene however, hosted by Piccoli as Swiss merchant Schweitzer, with his wife (Deneuve) and sister-in-law (Huppert), that "Lines" comes alive. That's largely because these actors effortlessly dissolve the artificiality of so much of the dialogue, creating a believable world that captures haute bourgeois life in a battle zone… Szankowski's lensing is most interesting indoors, where controlled light and space offer him greater opportunities for evocative framing…

— Jay Weissberg, VARIETY