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Portuguese Passion: An Interview with “Passionada” Director Dan Ireland

Intentional or not, there appears to be a current movement generating steam with independent films to focus on cultures not traditionally represented in film. Last year, My Big Fat Greek Wedding opened our eyes to the eccentricities of Greek family life and delivered big laughs. Opening in limited release this weekend is Passionada, a small, warm and fuzzy feeling romantic comedy set in the Portuguese-American community of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

In an interview with filmcritic.com, Passionada director Dan Ireland admits to never even visiting the Boston area prior to the project, but confirms falling in love with the town upon first visit. ‘When I got to hang out in New Bedford, meet the people, and walk around the city, it had a life onto itself – like a little pocket of Europe tucked away in America.’ Ireland loved the script, but it wasn’t until he visited fado (Portuguese folk music) clubs and met with fado artists that he was able to find the dimension necessary to really tell his story.

The story centers on a beautiful, widowed Portuguese single mother, Celia, who refuses to move on with her life. Celia finds comfort singing about her pain in a local restaurant. ‘One of the things I noticed in New Bedford is all the women wearing black and walking up and down the main drag,’ he recalls. ‘They are all widows who have lost their husbands to the sea, and they never got over it.’

Ireland’s attention to Celia’s plight makes it easy for us to get drawn into the struggles she faces. When the chronic liar and professional gambler Charlie arrives in town, he instantly falls for Celia. Charlie, like Celia, is lost in his own way, and because of his feelings for her, he’s determined to quit lying and get a grip on his life so they can be together. ‘One of the things I found wonderful is that these two people from completely different worlds could even be attracted to each other, let alone have a relationship with each other,’ Ireland admits. Yet, this type of strange bedfellow coupling has always been an interest to Ireland, whose prior films The Velocity of Gary and The Whole Wide World hold similar themes.

Passionada has a remarkably sensual feel to it, yet it never feels overtly sexual like so many other movies in the genre. One scene finds Charlie and Celia in bed together, and while the script called for sex, Ireland instead chose to express their hunger for each other with food. ‘You don’t need to see them make love, because there are so many other things sensual in life.’ Ireland continues, ‘I think it is fun to explore the more difficult way of doing it, than the easy way showing them making out.’ Ireland’s sensibility regarding sex is one of the most refreshing aspects about Passionada.

One of the things the Portuguese and Ireland are most passionate about is seafood, and Passionada certainly dives into that guilty pleasure. A restaurant in New Bedford called Antonio’s supplied all of the authentic dishes prepared in the film, based on the recommendation by the film’s writers Jim and Steve Jermanok. In fact, all of the recipes can be found on the film’s website. Ireland was never too far from the food once it reached the set. He concedes, ‘I wasn’t going near the catering truck. When that food came in, I looked at it and said, ‘Ok, I know what I am having for dinner tonight.”

Ireland couldn’t be more pleased with the early praise he has received from the Portuguese community regarding his film. Ireland concludes, ‘I’m so blessed. We were able to capture a little bit of life on film, and make it true without it being cliché and false. I hope the wonderful reactions continue because Passionada is really a love letter to the Portuguese people.’

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