Directed by Rita Azevedo Gomes

Runtime: 138 minutes

Cast: Clara Riedenstein, Marcello Urgeghe, Ingrid Caven, João Vicente

Synopsis: The newly married wife of Lord von Ketten is determined to make her husband’s family abode, an inhospitable castle in Northern Italy, into a home. When he sets off to battle, staying away for eleven long years, she carves out a life for herself—reading, singing, dancing, swimming, and riding in the forest.


Director Rita Azevedo Gomes [Correspondências (2016), A Woman’s Revenge (2012)] has adapted Austrian modernist author, Robert Musil’s 1924 novella of the same name into a visually rich cinematic experience.

The film opens with the poem ‘Unter den Linden’ (‘Under the Lime Tree’) by Medieval German lyric poet Walther von der Vogelweide, sung by veteran actress Ingrid Caven [Suspiria (2018), Ludwig – Requiem for a Virgin King (1972), Looping (1981)] in her distinctive style. Dressed in a contemporary black dress she provides a stark contrast with the spirit of this Medieval/Classical drama.

Passageira (Caven) serves as a (mainly) singing narrator of the story of the titular Portuguese woman (Clara Riedenstein) and her warrior husband Lord von Ketten (Marcello Urgeghe).

Set in the early 16th century, a young Portuguese woman has married von Ketten, an Italian nobleman who, like his father and grandfather, has spent his life fighting a war over a territorial dispute with the Bishop of Trento. About a year after their wedding, their first son is born. Days later, von Ketten leaves for war, sending his wife to a decaying castle. She spends years separated from her husband and the world outside of their estate.

During her isolation, the Portuguese woman spends her time chatting with her retinue, creating art, evading the people who come to the castle to retrieve her husband’s debt. She adopts a wolf, lives an ascetic lifestyle, is kind to animals and to people supposed to be her inferiors. She ends up accused of being a heretic, a witch.

A decade later, von Ketten returns exhausted, ill and disillusioned. The arrival of his wife’s cousin disturbs the stillness of life at the castle. Pero Lobato (João Vicente) is taking a break from his studies in Bologna. His visit delights the young woman and provokes jealousy in von Ketten.

Gomes and her cinematographer, Acácio de Almeida shoot almost every languorous scene as a series of static tableaux vivants, lit, posed and composed as Medieval old master paintings. Mise-en-scene is meticulously attentive to detail especially interior decor and colour tones.

Hypnotic, mysterious with lightly surreal flourishes, and an atmospheric score by José Mário Branco, The Portuguese Woman is a beautiful – if slow – film, which will be especially appreciated by lovers of Medieval/Classical art and literature.

Streaming on: MUBI

Images courtesy of MUBI