Opening with the narration of portions from Machiavelli's The Prince, which continued to pepper the film throughout in pseudo-chapter style - the narrator when revealed will be a bit of a surprise - Portugal S.A. has all the trappings of a film steeped with relevance in today's world, where power corrupts, and highlighting the constant stream of those clamouring for a whiff of the elusive, never mind about morals and friendship.
Beginning with the wedding of Jacinto (Diogo Infante) to Rosa (Ana Bustorff) in a marriage which the former's mom (Maria do Ceu Guerra) frowns upon, it is this single scene that sets up the monumental yet surface links between characters such as Jacinto's current boss, the powerful businessman Alexandre Boaventura (Henrique Viana), whom we learn has returned from a self-imposed exile and is on the verge of concluding the purchase of a majority stake in a bank. Cowering to nobody and accepting no threats, we soon learn that Boaventura is keeping plenty of cards close to his chest, while orchestrating his vengeance against the current crop of political leaders in the country.
Then there's Pedro Branco (Joao Vaz), Jacinto's pal who's the current Finance minister, and with whom Boaventura had brokered a gentleman's agreement for the minister to back the purchase in view of creation of jobs and investments. But soon enough Jacinto will constantly find himself torn between the scenarios that present themselves to him, which calls for his loyalty to either party, or risk being labelled a two-headed snake. But of course there's another path ready to be charted, if only his ambition will surpass both men, and to look toward self-interest as a priority.
And of course to complicate matters, writer Carlos Vale Ferraz and screenwriter Alberto Fernandes throws in a lot of other supporting characters such as Jacinto's ex-flame Fatima (Cristina Camara), who's back to Portugal and helming her father's company in order to clear his name, and willing to make concessions and deals, even going back to manipulate Jacinto through the affairs of the heart, and Father Francisco (Luis Madureira), who demonstrates that even the Church is somehow involved in positions of power politicking, given the fact that as chief confidante to many of the major characters here, he has intimate knowledge of their troubles, and is able to turn them into personal advantages, or pulling strings to make sure things go a certain way.
It's about the accumulating and harnessing of power, each person for their own interests, in order to fulfill personal objectives. The film does sprawl needlessly at times, such as the background of Rosa and the subplot about the journalist seduced by promise of position, but all these get thrown in if only to demonstrate how corruption and personal favours can extend beyond our own sphere of control, and at times, because of environmental factors and the decisive actions of others, things may not always go according to plan, no matter how meticulous one may seem to have move the chess pieces about on a board.
For those who are interested in watching how businessmen and politicians make strange bedfellows, with manipulation at each end to try and constantly gain the upper hand, then perhaps this film will be your choice at this year's European Union Film Festival, where it plays tomorrow at GV Vivocity.