He gave up his history studies to attend classes with António Reis at the Escola Superior de Cinema in Lisbon. His début film O Sangue had its world première at the Venice film festival in 1990. Casa de Lava, shot in Cabo Verde, premièred at the Cannes film festival in 1994. Cavalo Dinhero won the Leopard for best director at the Locarno festival in 2014.
His last feature film, Vitalina Varela, won the Golden Leopard and the Leopard for Best Actress at the Locarno festival in 2019.
In 2018 he devised the exhibition Companhia for the Serralves museum, putting works by Géricault, Picasso, Max Beckmann, Jacob Riis and Jeff Wall together with some of his own films, as well as collaborations with Chantal Akerman, Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub.