Melgaço Cinema Museum: a collection not to be missed

Alvarinho and nature are the municipality’s ex-libris, but in Melgaço there’s a museum that has some of the best collections in the world in its speciality. The Cinema Museum is a real must-see.   In a house next to the castle walls, the Melgaço Cinema Museum dedicates its permanent collection to the ancestors of cinema. Magic lanterns and other devices which for the first time set images in motion are the piece de resistance of the space which is part of the municipality’s museological network.

A collection of excellence

The French in italics has a particular reason for being here. The museum lives off the private collection of a Frenchman who fell in love with Portugal’s northernmost municipality. Jean Loup Passek donated the important collection of a lifetime to the municipality while he was still alive and helped to build the space that deserves a visit from all those who pass through the town.

The permanent exhibition room displays a fantastic (no need to be afraid of adjectives) collection of magic lanterns, phaenachistiscopes, zoetropos and praxinoscopes. These are strange names for devices that were the great attractions of the elegant salons and fairs of 19th century France.

Before the Lumière brothers invented the cinematograph and promoted an exhibition of small films on 28 December 1895 at the Grand Café in Paris, moving images were already attracting crowds and the imagination of inventors.

Until then, painted glass plates had been used which, when passed, created the illusion of movement. The effect was always similar, but depending on the device, the material used varied. It could be glass, bands or discs.

All this can be appreciated at the Cinema Museum in Melgaço. The collection of Jean Loup Passek amazes not only by the quality and quantity but also by the excellent state of conservation of the objects, namely the glass plates, which are pristine.


If we think that most of this material moved from land to land and was exhibited at fairs, we are amazed that they are exhibited in such a state that many of them seem never to have been used. Therefore, the magic lantern was one of the 7 objects with history that we selected between Melgaço and Castro Laboreiro.

The Cinema Museum of Melgaço also houses a temporary exhibition that is changed every year. Currently there is an exhibition of Polish cinema posters on display, which we highly recommend.

Jean Lup Passek has spent his adult life collecting objects relating to cinema and has taken care to look after the objects. The posters, for example, have never been rolled up, which now allows us to fully appreciate the work of the plastic and graphic artists who designed them.

A Frenchman with a Portuguese heart

Jean Loup Passek (1936-2016) was an important name in the French film scene. Of Russian descent, he began by dedicating himself to poetry, but quickly made his passion for cinema his way of life, having been the advisor for the seventh art at the Centre George Pompidou, editorial director of the Dictionnaire Larrouse du Cinéma, founder and director of the La Rochelle festival and the creator of the Cannes Film Festival’s Caméra d’Or award for first works.

"Slavic spirit, French nationality, Portuguese heart"
Jean Loup Passek – Photo: Fernando Veludo/Público

It was by chance that the man of “Slavic spirit and French nationality” was left with a “Portuguese heart”.

In the 1970s, he was making a documentary about emigration and met two Portuguese people while he was working on the extension of the Parisian underground. The conversation went well and António Souto and António Alves invited him home for dinner.

From this chance encounter a strong friendship was born and later a true love for our country. Jean Loup was invited to visit António Souto’s home and fell in love with Melgaço and the mountain landscapes of Castro Laboreiro. He fell in love with the Minho gastronomy and the people who welcomed him as one of their own.

With time, passion turned into love, so much so that Jean Loup Passek moved permanently to Melgaço, having also built a second house in Nazaré.

Seeing that time was running out, the Frenchman with a Portuguese heart decided to donate his collection to the Melgaço municipality, with the obligation of having it permanently exhibited. Thus, the Jean Loup Passek Film Museum of Melgaço was born. The official opening was on 29 April 2005, in the presence of the collector who stated, in a statement to Público: “”I am happy. It is a true miracle that the museum could be born here, in Melgaço. Nobody proposed anything concrete to me in France. I spent my money to buy all this, and I didn’t want the collection to stay in France. I feel a bit selfish. For me, Portugal is what is important”.

Melgaço thus gained an excellent facility with one of the world’s most important collections of objects from the prehistory of cinema. But during the 50 years that he dedicated to collecting objects, Jean Loup Passek was interested not only in magic lanterns and posters, but also in photography, books, cameras and everything that was somehow related to cinema.

The collection seems to have no end and so temporary exhibitions are held. The Jean Loup Passek Cinema Museum in Melgaço is truly a must-see!

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