Friday, 17 April 2015

Manoel de Oliveira

The last film of Manoel de Oliveira that I saw in a cinema was Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (2009), and when he made it he was 100 years old. Not that it showed in the film, which was as spruce and good as any made that year. (It opens with a scene in a train car, one long take with a stable camera, and the only thing that happens is that the conductor walks through the train asking everybody for their tickets.) After that he made two more feature films and several short films, until he finally gave up a couple of weeks ago, and died, 106 years old. He was Portuguese, born in Porto, and began making films in the late 1920s, shorts and documentaries, and his first feature was made in 1942, Aniki Bóbó. Then came a gap of 14 years until he could make another film (partly because of the dictatorship of Salazar) and he made another feature in 1963, Acto da Primevera. But it was not until after the end of the dictatorship in 1974 that he was free to completely unleash his creativity.

I have not seen all that much of his features, maybe six or so, but most of them have been powerful, and often delightful as well. I am particularly fond of I'm Going Home (2001). It is about death and art, but done with such a light touch and wry humour making the film a pure joy. At least until the last 15 minutes or so which are agonizing. The main character, Gilbert Valence, is a famous older actor, played by Michel Piccoli, who loses his wife, son and granddaughter in a car accident and is left alone with his young grandson. Yet the film consists mostly of Gilbert's daily activities, such as buying new shoes, having a cup of coffee, meeting his agent, being mugged by a punk, and observing his home town, which is Paris. It is all done with exceptional warmth, restraint and wit. Here Gilbert and his grandson bond by driving R/C cars together.


I love this film, and it is available on DVD with English subtitles.

Among de Oliveira's earlier documentaries I have seen only one, The Artist and the City (1956), about a painter in Porto. It is something of a city symphony (which were otherwise popular in the 1920s), and worth a look.

3 comments:

  1. My favorite de Oliveira films are DOOMED LOVE and THE CONVENT. The former is probably doomed to perpetual obscurity thanks to its 4-hour length, but the latter is comparatively quick and breezy. His death is a sad occasion, obviously, but I hope it also leads to worldwide traveling retrospectives and home video releases.

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    1. And The Satin Slipper (1985) is seven hours long!

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  2. For a long time, he was best known in the U.S. for making extremely long films, although the vast majority of his work is relatively short.

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