There’s comedic potential in the events behind an unlikely relationship between an artist and a commercial juggernaut
This deadpan, comical short film by New York-based French director Eugène Green uses a little known real life event – an attempt by the 20th century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa to write an advertising slogan for Coca-Cola – to make several wry observations about art, commerce, imperialism, religion and cultural diffusion.
It plays out over a series of long-ish scenes; we first encounter Pessoa (Carloto Cotta) as he is being tasked with writing a campaign for ‘Coca-Louca’, an evident and amusingly renamed stand-in for the world-conquering American export. It’s described here, with tongues very much in cheeks, as being “United-Statesian” – a simple device to make the point that this is a period in which the very notion of an American cultural export is alien, or unfamiliar.
Today, of course, those United-Statesian fizzy drinks (and plenty more besides) have infiltrated the rest of the world on a scale that no other country could hope to match, but Portugal rejected Coke for decades before finally and inevitably caving in during the 1970s. As Green himself pointed out to Mubi, “it was only permitted in 1977, three years after the Revolution. For years Portugal was the only country in Europe where there was no Coca-Cola“.
In the film, Pessoa’s attempt to get his foot in the door of the commercially lucrative world of advertising is unsuccessful. His slightly racy campaign is thwarted by a Catholic Church outcry; the irony, given that we are watching a character based on one of Europe’s greatest poets, is hard to miss. This directly leads to the rejection of the drink, and – through a conservative lack of tolerance – the film ends with Portugal asserting its independence for… goodness knows how long. Employing mostly front-on shot reverse shots, Green leads us through all the rather comical conversations surrounding this thwarted attempt in an efficient manner.