We all know about Nazi Germany, fascist Spain and Mussolini’s Italy, but it’s the four decades of António de Oliveira Salazar’s regime in Portugal that rates as the longest dictatorship of 20th-century Europe. In contrast to his colleagues, this absolute ruler managed to maintain a sheen of normalcy, at least to the outside world. Under him, Portugal became a member of the United Nations and a founder of NATO.
Based on news reports, propaganda films and images from prison archives, Susana de Sousa Dias paints a picture of this almost forgotten and barely processed era in Portuguese history. We are confronted with processions that emphasized the bond between church and army, much flag waving, children in uniform and police photos of political prisoners. Meanwhile, Salazar waves affably from a balcony. After a relatively harmonious beginning, riots in Lisbon and bloody colonial wars become commonplace. This is a bird’s-eye view of history playing in slow motion—as if it were all just a bad dream.