The Franco-Portuguese film director takes us on a tour of his adopted hometown, Lisbon
Mr Ruben Alves is chronically indecisive. “I hate choosing,” he says. “I’d just rather not do it.” When it came to making the biggest decision of his life – to leave Paris for Lisbon – he thought, “Why choose? It’s only two hours on theplane. Why can’t I live in both?” And so he did.
He soon fell in love with the city, its energy and authenticity. “In Lisbon, you don’t really need to go to the cinema, because the movies are happening on the streets, in the cafés, the tascas,” he says. “When you go for a coffee in Paris, everyone is stressed, everyone is drinking their coffee as fast as they can. In Lisbon, a coffee is a moment to stop and talk. To have a human interaction. It’s when life happens.”
About 10 years ago, Mr Alves decided to purchase a flat in the Bairro Alto neighbourhood of Lisbon, one of the hilliest areas of the city with cobbled streets and crumbling townhouses. Inspired by his dramatic new surroundings, and the strange feeling of being an expatriate in a country to which he was so intrinsically linked, he penned a script that eventually evolved into his debut film.
“Originally, it was about French people expatriated in Portugal,” he says. “But when I delivered the script to my producers, they told me, ‘Look, it’s good, but aren’t you doing this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be a greater honour to your parents if you made this movie about Portuguese people in France instead?’” Duly altered, the script became 2013’s The Gilded Cage, a sleeper hit that made Mr Alves’ name as a director in both France and Portugal.
It isn’t hard to see why he was so seduced by Lisbon. Its dusty terracotta-pink and yolky yellow buildings with intricate, colourful tiles all add to the charm of the faded splendour of an imperial capital that once ruled the seas from Asia to Africa and South America. But it’s also a vibrant tech hub with bustling restaurants, independent art galleries and a vibrant nightlife.
We followed Mr Alves for a week as he shared his style diary and introduced us to the city – OK, one of the cities – he calls home.