La cage d’orée (Ruben Alves – France) 90 minutes
France’s Portuguese community – one million strong – is one of the country’s most unassuming success stories of integration. Most arrived in the post-war years, fleeing the underdeveloped economy, and often repression, of Salazar's Estado Novo, and made a number of trades their own, notably construction, painting and decorating and, most of all, the position of concierge, the superintendant of Parisian residential buildings. Facing less severe discrimination than Arab or African immigrants, the Franco-Portuguese have done well. Unlike other European immigrant groups in France though, such as the Spanish, the Poles and the Italians, the Portuguese have remained steadfastly connected to the old country. Many second-generation Portuguese are bilingual and will always choose the Selecçao over France, were the two to meet in a major football match (as they often do). Ruben Alves’ comedy La cage d’orée is a long-overdue portrayal of a community that has until now been largely ignored by French cinema.
The Ribeiro family live in the concierge lodge of a bourgeois building in Paris’ wealthy 16th arrondissement; mother Maria (Rita Blanco) takes care of the residents’ every need while José (Joaquim de Almeida) is a construction-site foreman. Son Carlos (Jean-Pierre Martins) is still at school while Paula (Barbara Cabrita) has started seeing the son of her father’s boss. José one day learns he has inherited a vineyard in the Douro valley from a long-estranged brother on condition that he go live there to oversee it. When word gets out that the Ribeiros are planning to leave, the building’s residents and José’s boss snap into action to prevent it by whatever means necessary.
La cage d’orée (the gilded cage) is a pretty unsophisticated comedy and is loaded to the point of cliche with all the familiar trappings of Portuguese life – the virgin of Fatima, pastéis de nata, fado (with Amália Rodrigues to the fore, of course), bacalhau à bras, the music of Rodrigo Leão (who contributed the soundtrack, much of it recycled), Port, Super Bock, and so on. The sporting idol of the Franco-Portuguese, PSG’s record scorer Pauleta even makes a goofy guest appearance. The central conceit is a bit flawed as, though it might be funny to a French audience, from the point of view of a neutral observer trying to prevent an immigrant from returning home has a touch of cruelty to it that sits uncomfortably with gentle comedy.
Nonetheless Alves’ film has some surprisingly sharp insights into the immigrant experience, particularly the tension between the yearning for the homeland and the commitments of life in the new country. It also movingly throws into relief the inferiority complex of the Portuguese vis-à-vis their French hosts (never mind that Portuguese culture and society are every bit as rich as those of France). It’s none too complicated and has the air of TV comedy about it but La cage d’orée is a pleasant portrait of a quietly proud immigrant community and it is nice to see the stone-faced Joaquim de Almeida get a go at comedy, being far more used to playing minor Latino tough guys in Hollywood movies.