Manuel DeOliveira (Portugal, 1908)
began his career as a filmmaker with Soviet-inspired documentaries
such as Douro Faina Fluvial/ Douro Working River (1931)
and especially the proto-neorealism of Aniki-bobò (1942),
that employed non-professional child actors.
His career was erratic due to the financial problems of Portugal under
the fascist dictatorship of Salazar.
He was already in his 50s when he made Acto De Primavera/ Rite of Spring (1963),
an odd semi-documentary on the Eastern celebration of a poor village.
The film opens with a quotation from the Bible. After a few cryptic allegorical
scenes (peasants fighting with sticks, bulls fighting each other with people
rooting around them, a fishermen, women running towards the river), we
see men assembled around a man who reads the newspaper aloud, notably an
article about the space race. They are interrupted by an official who hangs
a poster announcing the sacred ritual of Easter.
A girl in a colorful dress walks to the well through narrow alleys of the town
and finds Jesus by the well. She summons the town to witness the stranger.
Then the representation begins: the priest distributes costumes to the people
of the rural town, a filmmaker's crew starts rolling, tourists watch scornful
from a distance. The peasants reenact the story of Jesus' trial and crucifixion
(some of them, including Jesus, sing their lines) around the countryside,
and this lasts for about one hour. Then, when the apostles are wrapping
Jesus' body in the shroud, suddenly the film shifts to footage of a
nuclear bomb, of a space rocket, of WWII fighting, mixed with images of
Jesus, the destruction and death of war, a child crying in Vietnam...
and the devil laughing.
Back to the village, the man is reading again aloud from the newspaper
to the others, and this time the subject is the nuclear war that is approaching.
The priest reminds them that Jesus resurrected on the third day.
After the allegorical short A Caca/ The Hunt/ La Caccia (1963), however,
DeOliveira sets out to create one of the most ambitious projects of the
the "Tetralogy of Frustrated Love", consisting of
The Past and the Present,
Benilde or the Virgin Mother,
O Pasado e o Presente/ The Past and the Present (1971) is a mediocre, amateurish comedy, probably a response of sorts to Bunuel's contemporary
satires of bourgeois frustrations, occasionally imploding into a grotesque
parody of the domestic drama.
Vanda is an attractive wealthy widow who lives in a mansion, surrounded by
gardener, maid and chaffeur.
She is annoyed that her current husband Firmino wants to come to the ceremony
for her previous husband Ricardo. She has summoned a group of close friends:
Angelica, Noemia, their husbands and the womanizer Mauricio.
She worships her dead husband, keeps his portrait in every room, and has just
provided for a mausoleum where his coffin has to be transferred.
The guests gossip that it is weird that she worships her first husband in
front of the second.
She is more in love with her first husband now that he is dead than she
was when he was alive.
Firmino must be really in love to go through this humiliation.
In fact, when he finds her asleep in the living room, he gestures to strangle
her and to stab her with a knife, but, when
she opens her eyes, that's enough for him to get on his knees.
She doesn't want his kiss though and simply walks out.
She is inviting Ricardo's twin brother almost every day.
Firmino confides to Angelica's husband that he wants them to become lovers,
so that she will be devoured by the remorse of having cheated on Ricardo
with his own brother. That will be Firmino's revenge.
Mauricio is hostile to Angelica's husband, and in fact seduces his wife:
he swears eternal love to her and
they make love on the floor in the living room.
One year later, despite accepting the humiliation, the husband is still
treated cruelly by Vanda, and jumps from the balcony.
He doesn't die and the friends get together to gossip about this new event.
Vanda is heartless: she tears the suicide note to pieces and wishes all
the worst to her comatose husband.
She even orders the coffin before he dies.
Mauricio and Angelica's husband argue almost violently: Mauricio enjoys
deriding everything the other man says.
Mauricio and Angelica break up when everybody leaves the room,
the same room where he swore eternal love to her.
The arrogant Mauricio even refuses her husband's apologies for having raised
his voice, he then tries to flirt with the divorced Noemia but she gets bored
and walks outside, and to be very clear she tells him that she lives with her
ex husband and she still loves him.
Vanda is in for a major shock: Daniel reveals that he switched identify with
his brother before he was run over by a car, and that in fact he is Ricardo,
not Daniel. The friends
find them kissing when they bring the news that her husband Firmino
Vanda and Ricardo/Daniel start living like husband and wife again,
despite the fact that the bureaucracy does not recognize their marriage.
Then one day she orders and hangs a portrait of her dead husband, the one whom
she despised, and soon Daniel/Ricardo is haunted by portraits of the dead
husband placed everywhere, just like Firmino was.
He becomes suicidal too, but, instead, ends up beating her and locking her
in the bedroom.
The friends are summoned again for a new ceremony: the wedding of a friend.
Mauricio and Angelica are lovers again.
Ricardo tells the friends that Vanda went mad and attacked him.
Vanda farcically escapes from the balcony using bedsheets as ropes
and joins the friends to tell the truth, that he has beaten her, not viceversa.
They swear each other eternal hatred, each planning to have the other one
interned in a madhouse (one loves dead people, the other one pretended to be
dead for one year).
They show up at the friend's wedding too late to find a seat and walk up and
down the aisle looking in vain for a place to seat.
Benilde (1974), one of his best, based on the 1947 play by Jose Regio,
takes place entirely in a country house, with a tone somewhere in between the
kammerspiel and the mystery play.
DeOliveira does not provide an explanation and ends the film leaving all
three options possible: an immaculate conception, a madwoman raped by the
town's idiot, and a naive girl raped by her cousin.
Genoveva, the housekeeper, has invited Cristovao, the priest, and
Fabricio, the doctor, because she is afraid that the teenager Benilde,
daughter of the owner of the house, is going crazy, like
her mother did. Genoveva has already told the priest what she suspects, but is
reluctant to tell the doctor. She only mentions that the girl has taken on
The doctor mentions that her mother was driven crazy but a bizarre husband
and by that melancholy isolated house.
Genoveva is terrified that Benilde's talk is beginning to sound like her mother.
Benilde's father is of little use: he seems indifferent to everything.
He is currently out of town, and is scheduled to return the following day with
Eduardo, Benilde's cousin, apparently chosen by his mother
Etelvina and Benilde's father as Benilde's fiance.
Benilde is a little upset by Genoveva's suspicions and scheming, but allows
the doctor to examine her.
The priest, alone with Genoveva, reproaches her for having had "demonic" suspicions about the innocent Benilde, who lives so isolated from anybody else.
The doctor, however, finds that Genoveva was right: Benilde the innocent is
The doctor relates with skepticism that Benilde's excuse is that she is
pregnant of God's child, a second case of immaculate conception.
The doctor implies that she is simply playing the part of the
hysterical bigot, daughter of another hysterical bigot; but the priest instead
defends the possibility of miracles.
When Benilde pretends to have a mystical trance,
the doctor loses his patience and begs Benilde to tell the truth.
The priest, however, believes her when she says that she is hearing a voice,
and Benilde with a smile faints on the floor.
The doctor tells Benilde's aunt Etelvina
that they cannot expect the priest to extort a confession from Benilde.
Eduardo is madly in love with Benilde, but the doctor pragmatically suggests
that this scandal may be good for him: science is against marriages
between cousins when there is already a case of madness in the family.
The doctor asks whether Eduardo himself could be the father of the baby.
Etelvina seems to be on the doctor's side, on the side of the scientific
She confronts Benilde alone. Benilde says she wasn't excited about marrying
Eduardo, but she didn't betray him.
Etelvina tries in vain to extort the name of the lover. Benilde insists
that there is no other man, and starts praying.
Etelvina calls her a liar and a hypocrite.
Benilde insists that she got pregnant due to divine intervention.
She claims she doesn't even know how baby are born.
Suddenly, they hear the village idiot howling and moaning in the wind, and
Benilde enters a sort of trance, calling him God's messenger,
which leads Etelvina to believe that the idiot is the one who got her pregnant.
Etelvina is convinced that Benilde is neither mad nor a saint, but simply
a slut who slept with a homeless idiot.
Etelvina offers to help her get an abortion, but Benilde retorts that she
(Etelvina) is possessed by the devil.
Eduardo walks in and Benilde breaks the news to him.
Eduardo first slaps her in the face, but then, left alone with her, still
begs her to marry him and later asks her father for her hand.
Her father would approve, but Benilde refuses.
Her father is confused, he still doesn't know what happened.
Eduardo tries to take the blame, confessing that he raped Benilde while
she was sleepwalking outside.
He father, disgusted, ask Eduardo and Benilde to get married and leave the
Both Benilde and Etelvina have no doubt that he is making this up.
Benilde tells her version of the story, of how she was impregnated by
God in person, and then she faints.
Her father has the same reaction as the housekeeper
Genoveva: Benilde is going mad.
Alone with Eduardo she reveals that the "voice" has told her that she is
going to die. Suddenly weak, she can't even walk without help.
Eduardo is still willing to marry her and is petrified that she seems to be
dying for real.
In the last scene we see the priest consoling Eduardo and the two older women
laying down Benilde in her bed.
Amor de Perdicao/ Doomed Love (1978) is a diligent adaptation of
Camilo Castelo Branco's novel.
The much longer Francisca (1981),
loosely based on Augustina Bessa-Luis' "Fanny Owen" (1979), which also
happens to stage the writer Camilo Castelo as a character,
is a period drama that still retains some of the atmosphere of a mystery play
(of an "auto") but employs a more experimental technique.
This technique mainly relies on the contrast between
maximalist (baroque) visuals and minimalist (almost robotic) acting.
(written in a high-brow, quasi-poetic literary language)
is delivered by the actors in the manner of
Brecht-ian "estrangement" and with almost no movement of the face or of the
body. These are petrified actors, more similar to the people represented
in old Flemish paintings than to theatrical actors.
The actors don't recite: they simply read in a declamatory style, rarely
showing any emotion. Nonetheless, towards the end this flat style of speech
turns into an almost Shakespearian tone in the soliloquies.
DeOliveira introduces yet another twist with the
shocking reversal of perspective in the soliloquy of the heart, when we
get to see the same scene twice, once facing the speaker and once facing
Countrywide, the Portuguese aristocracy is demoralized after the loss of Brazil.
A woman reads a letter of condolences for the death of her brother, sent
by a woman named Maria.
The film is one long flashback to explain that death.
While mourning for her mother, the young and aristocratic
Jose August attends a costume ball.
He is obviously wealthy and idle.
Jose Augusto tells his friend Camilo, an aspiring writer from the middle class,
that he fell in love with a girl he first saw at a costume ball.
Later he introduces his brother Raimundo and his wife Josefa to Camilo.
They eat dinner in a cold, sterilized manner.
Jose Augusto and Camilo
attend a ball at a baron's palace. Jose Augusto has a
philosophical discussion with a woman about love and death.
Camilo tells him that a woman, Raquel, who married a man 25 years her senior has
had 14 lovers, and is busy accumulating and administering a fortune.
Camilo and Jose Augusto ride their horses to the house where Fanny and Maria
live, the daughters of an English colonel.
theater Jose Augusto with Raquel, Camilo accused of being envious of Jose Augusto
scenes of peasants dancing and singing in the countryside
Jose Augusto visits Maria every day and finds Camilo, who is now courting Fanny.
Jose Augusto is clearly upset.
When Camilo takes residence near his mansion, Jose Augusto visits him and
threatens to kill anybody who falls in love with Fanny.
Camilo is visited by his old friend Manoel, who brings further news of military defeat
One day Jose Augusto rides his horse straight into Camilo's room to announce
that his engagement to Maria is over and that he is in love with Fanny.
Initially Fanny tells Jose Augusto that she only considers him as a brother,
but then she accepts his love.
The next time the two friends meet Jose Augusto announces the decision of
eloping with Fanny to avoid the objections of the family.
Jose Augusto and fanny get lost in the dark and have to hitch a ride in a
boat of peasants.
One day Camilo visits Fanny to warn her
that Jose Augusto will kill her.
Fanny rejects his advice and sends him away, accusing him of being
envious and full of hatred.
Jose Augusto promises to marry Fanny as soon as possible, but, for the time
being, lets her use her mother's old quarters, assisted by the staff of the
mansion. Then he leaves her alone.
She sets out to write a letter to her parents and her poems.
Days go by and Jose Augusto is not back yet.
Josefa comes to visit the poor lonely Fanny. Fanny misses the nice folks of
her town. Josefa tells her that the folks here are rough and idiotic.
Josefa feels that Fanny is too innocent for the marriage to work.
Meanwhile, Jose Augusto is with Raquel, and tells her she is the only woman
whom he loves. Raquel is puzzled: she thought that Jose Augusto was only
interested in marrying a rich woman like her, instead he is obsessed with
harming the innocent Fanny.
Fanny's parents send a messenger to tell Jose Augusto that they accept the
wedding but with no dowry except for a few nostalgic diamonds.
Camilo, who is now a famous writer,
comes to visit and the two old friends finally hug.
When Jose Augusto tells Camilo that he is going to marry Fanny, however,
Camilo is opposed. He is convinced that Jose Augusto will kill her.
Jose Augusto, arrogant as usual, scorns his friend's moralizing tone.
Jose Augusto is still seeing Raquel, and even in public.
But one day he has to desert Raquel at the opera and rush back home
because he discovered that Fanny has been secretely writing letters,
letters that could spread to all of their friends.
Jose Augusto gets mad at her, and she in vain tells him of her unlimited
Camilo has moved to a new room and Manoel visits him again.
Camilo confesses his love for Fanny.
Jose Augusto asks his friends and his relatives Josefa and Maimundo for
advice: is he still bound by his marriage proposal?
Jose Augusto does not love Fanny but decides to go ahead with the wedding.
Fanny's family refuses to attend the wedding and Jose August gets married by proxy.
Six people attend the wedding dinner, hardly moving or without saying a word,
while the butler and the maids set the table and serve the drinks.
It is wedding night, and Fanny is escorted to the bedroom, but soon a
servant comes to tell her that Jose Augusto left the house.
Dressed in white, Fanny sleeps alone again.
She tells a relative how desperate she is, how she longs for death.
Her sister warns her that something is going on between Jose August and
the young maid Franzina. One day Fanny witnesses as Franzina burst out
crying, and Fanny herself consoles her.
One day he hides a letter from her sister Maria and, when Fanny tries to
grab it, he slaps her. Fanny meekly comments that she is being kept like
a prisoner, and that there are spies everywhere. But she also hints at
Camilo's presence in the house: he knows what is going on.
When the couple goes on vacation, Camilo visits them.
Camilo finds Fanny as depressed as usual. She's reading Byron because it is
Jose Augusto's favorite writer. Camilo calls Byron "the gospel of the selfish"
and tries in vain to rescue Fanny for her nightmarish marriage.
Camilo can see that Fanny is dying. Her mother comes to stay with her,
bringing news that Maria is getting married.
On her deathbed she says she feels sorry for Camilo.
After the funeral Jose Augusto is beginning to feel the remorse.
An autopsy is performed to verify that Fanny died a virgin: Jose Augusto never
consumed the marriage, and she never cheated on him, nor had any lovers before
He delivers a speech in front of an altar about the heart, holding something
in his hand that could be Fanny's heart. He is talking to Franzina, whom we
do not see. Then
(the most striking scene of the film)
the exact same scene is repeated with the exact same words
except that this time we see Franzina listening to him and we don't see him
speaking. Franzina terrified runs away. At night she hears the master mount
a horse and ride away.
Raimundo receives a letter from Jose August relating how he now lives alone,
haunted by remorse. Then another letter explains that he is traveling to the
capital. Jose Augusto tracks down Fanny's brother Hugo because he now wants
to know more about Fanny's past. But Hugo despises Jose Augusto and ridicules
his efforts to keep live the memory of what was a pathetic mistake.
Camilo and friends meet at a cafe to discuss the death of Jose Augusto.
One is suspicious that the death happened in the same hotel where Fanny's
brother was staying. Another one mentions that Jose Augusto was taking
opium, but not enough to cause his death, and therefore suicide is unlikely.
Since they can't agree on the cause of the death, Camilo declares that he
will write it as caused by brain fever. And they drink to it.
We now realize that the beginning of the film was about the death of Jose
Augusto, and the reader was Jose Augusto's sister-in-law Josefa,
and the sender was Francisca's sister Maria.
O Meu Caso/ Mon Cas/ My Case (1987), his non-narrative zenith,
an avantgarde piece, a tribute to absurdist theater, is a cryptic combination
of several things: a remix of Jose Regio's comedy "O Meu Caso" (1953),
a documentary on global tragedies, a dramatization of the "Book of Job"
from the Old Testament, and a tribute to the Italian Rinascimento.
It is virtually impossible to find out what these things have in common,
and what the ending "means". The ending is simply the "Mona Lisa"'s smile:
is it meant as a comment on the human condition? Or as a joke that DeOliveira
played on his gullible audience (we see the smile when we also see the
film crew at work)? After all, the whole time DeOliveira keeps reminding us that this is just a film.
We never hear the "case" that the stranger is desperately trying to talk about.
We hear about everybody else's case, all the way back to Job, except the case
that started the whole film. Maybe that's the ultimate "case": the case of the
ordinary person whom nobody wants to listen to. Then, again, that was simply
the adaptation of someone else's play. If we thought that this film was merely
the adaptation of a Regio's play, we quickly realize that this play is merely
one building block.
While the titles are rolling the camera shows a close-up of... cameras ready
to film. They are shown closer and closer, resembling a horror movie's monster.
The audience takes its seats. The curtain rises. The filming begins.
They are filming a play titled "My Case". A man runs panting on the
and proclaims that he is not part of the play, but the victim of a
misunderstanding, a misunderstanding that is actually a
universal misunderstanding: we are all victims of it.
He has time to remind us that in the theater everything is fake
before the stage manager pulls him out, apologizing to the audience,
and telling the stranger to care for his case too: he could be fired for this
incident, and he has a family, including a paralyzed wife and an unemployed son.
The play's primadonna walks in and begins the play. The play is about her
case: she is torn between the love of the athletic Edmund and the love of
the rich Frederick. While she recites her lines, we see in the background that
the stranger is trying to interrupt the show and is being stopped by the stage
manager. Finally the stranger manages to regain the stage and
ridicules her acting. The actress, outraged, threatens calls for the author,
but the author doesn't seem to exist. The stranger mentions his case (that
we still haven't heard) but she retorts that the play is about the case of
the character she impersonates.
She addresses the audience explaining her case, that this is her first major
part and she has been rehearsing it for a long time, and now this stranger is
ruining the play.
Angered, she promises to have the stage manager fired, and calls him
It is then the turn of the stage manager to face the audience and explain his case.
Then he confronts the woman, implying that her case (the case of the actress,
not the case of the character she was going to impersonate) is not any better
than his: she too comes from a poor family.
While the stage manager and the strangers are fighting, they accidentally
hit a pianola that starts playing by itself.
The author finally shows up, followed by the other actors of the play.
It is now the author's turn to present his case to the audience, while the
actress dances in front of the piano: it took him
five years of preparation, fighting with idiotic producers and critics,
to get to this premiere, and there is
hardly anything left of his original text.
He vents his frustration to the audience but he is interrupted by the
stranger again, who mocks the story of the woman torn between Edmund
The author, the actress, the stage manager and the stranger take shifts
at arguing in front of the audience and yelling insults at each other,
while the other actors in the background listen patiently.
When the stranger pretends to have a gun in order to get attention,
suddenly a spectator gets up and starts talking too. He lost his patience.
He argues in favor of all the spectators who came to theater to watch
a play, not to watch this fight. He pleads the case of the spectator:
after a tiring day of work, the spectator simply wants to forget all of
his or her troubles. The author warmly agrees and calls for the start of
Finally the curtain drops and cuts short the stranger's renewed attempt
to explain his case.
A member of the film crew shows up in front of the curtain and... "cut!"
Now the film replays the entire first act at double speed in black and white without sound (with a farcical effect) while a stately voiceover recites
Samuel Beckett's harrowing "Fizzle 4 - I gave up before birth..." (1960).
The recitation ends when the curtain drops. "Cut!" and now the first act
is played again (in color) again at faster speed
(enough that their words are incomprehensible);
but this time the replay is different because, before the author can enter
the stage, a man lowers a screen and starts showing a film.
Now the author enters the stage and the replay is exactly like the first
act except that there is the documentary being projected in the background.
And this film eventually hijacks the replay because all the actors turn
towards the screen and start watching it. The documentary, mostly about
the horrors of humankind, ends with Picasso's "Guernica".
The actors restart their argument, this time in a chaotic manner, and
the spectator joins them, and the curtain drops. The action shifts to
an urban landscape of post-apocalyptic ruins. Among collapsed buildings
and abandoned vehicles Job the leper is being tempted by a sexy Satan (a woman).
The stately voiceover introduces their dialogue quoting from the Bible.
Job's soliloquy is about his suffering, which he feels has been unfairly cast
on him by God. His friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar interpret
suffering as divine punishment but Elihu argues against their theories
that the suffering is not punishment but love. A storm announces God's voice.
God is mad at the three friends, whose theory is completely wrong.
The voiceover tells that in due time God rewarded the just Job and gave him
many children. We see the whole tribe assemble in a set that is a copy
of the "Ideal City", an anonymous painting of the Rinascimento. Two people
carry Leonardo's painting "Mona Lisa" to Job, and children dance around the
group. The camera focuses on the "Mona Lisa" and then backs out revealing
a monitor set among the seats of the theater and next to it the
crew filming the action. Eventually we see the entire scene: the crew
in the seats and the cast playing the scene on the stage.
The camera focuses on the flickering "Mona Lisa" image showing in the monitor
and then on the lips, and its famous smile.
The farcical singing film
Os Canibais/ The Cannibals (1988), adapted from a novel by Alvaro Carvalhal,
is an unorthodox melodramatic opera with macabre and surrealistic overtones,
and a grotesquely funny finale, a
savage satire of the bourgeoisie a` la
Bunuel's Le Charme Discret De La Bourgeoisie, almost a prequel to
Greenaway's The Cook The Thief His Wife And Her Lover.
Despite a gloriously breathtaking ending, the film is bogged down by the first
hour, the most properly operatic part, and, in general, by the singing.
People dressed in period costumes arrive at the opera, welcomed by a clapping
audience. We see them arrives in cars, not caleches, therefore they are the
actors of the film that is set in the previous century (or even earlier).
The film's narrator sings to us the general structure and theme of the film,
introducing also his accompanying violinist Niccolo.
The first half of the film is a shameless parody of the genre of the opera.
The singing scenes between the protagonists are separated by the sung
comments of the omniscient narrator,
who even castigates the film for some poor scenes.
During a formal ball, we are told that the young and beautiful
Margarida is an unmarried woman who attracts strong passions.
Don Joao is secretely in love with her, but her friends the
baron tells him that she in love with a viscount, D'Aveleda.
Don Joao cannot hide his burning jealousy.
He spies the lovers when they meet at night in a garden and see them kissing.
When the viscount leaves, Joao approaches Margarida and vents his desperation.
During the wedding banquet, the women gossip that the viscount wears gloves
all the time, and Joao gives an ominous toast.
In the bedroom the groom intones a gloomy and cryptic song, with references to
the legend of Hero and Leander (Leander drowns and Hero commits suicide),
while outside Joao meditates murder, determined to fight his bitter fate.
Margarida does not understand what is ailing her spouse and begs him to tell
her the truth, promising she will love him no matter what.
Finally, he confesses that he is
half man and half machine, and he removes his limbs, revealing his maimed torso.
She runs away terrified. Disappointed that she doesn't love him as she
promised, the viscount throws himself in the fireplace.
Just then Joao is walking into the house determined to kill him.
He doesn't seem too surprised and, after diligently parking the limbs
against the wall, he simply watches as the viscount burns.
In the morning Margarida's father Urbano, finds the bedroom deserted and can smell
roasted meat. He invites his son and his lawyer to try the meat, i.e. the
Margarida is found dead, having taken her own life (the legend of Hero
fulfilled), and Don Joao lies next to her, having tried too to kill himself.
Before dying Joao whispers that the viscount burned.
Urbano and the other two realize that they ate the viscount.
Urbano, tired of life, decides to die, and his son decides to follow his
example, but their friend the lawyer announces that, since the viscount
had no family other than Margarida,
they are the legitimate heirs of the immense forture of the viscount.
The problem is that they ate the proof that the viscount is dead.
They do not hesitate to kill the lawyer and eat him as if it were a pig,
soon joined by the servants and even by the chaplain.
While they are consuming their cannibalistic meal, the violinist is playing
in front of them. Suddenly, the violinist explodes and disappears.
The pig-headed lawyer grabs his violin and starts playing a joyful aria.
Margarida and Joao resurrect and everybody dances around the new violinist.
The seven-hour Le Soulier De Satin/ The Satin Slipper (1989) is a
adaptation of Claudel's marathon play (1929), which usually lasts 11 hours
(52 scenes, divided into four separate days). Claudel's play is as cosmopolitan
as it gets (Europe, Africa, a Chinese, America, the Far East).
The theatrical flavor is emphasized by the painted sets in the background.
Less obvious is the robotic acting, with the actors looking straight into the
camera and barely moving their lips (to the point that in some scenes it is
difficult to tell who is talking), almost as if DeOliveira wanted to remove
humanity from these humans.
In fact, he reduces
the spiritual dimension of Claudel's play (among the characters are
a constellation, a guardian angel, the Moon, a saint) to pretexts for
The other interest that the film offers over the play consists of the scenes
where DeOliveira employs his visual imagination to starkly decontextualize
But mostly DeOliveira follows Claudel's instructions and text, even for the
various surrealist scenes. Whatever
merits this film has are Claudel's, not DeOliveira's.
A man wearing a suit and tie outside the theater tells us that the play is
set in 16th-century Spain at the time of the conquistadors.
We can see the audience assembling behind the glass doors and windows.
The door opens and people flow towards the theater's house while the orchestra
players are tuning the instruments.
An actor wearing a period costume on stage in front of the red curtain
calls for silence. The curtain opens and reveals a screen while the actor
introduces the play. The camera focuses on the screen where another actor
(in a blueish light), impersonating a dying priest on
a sinking ship,
is praying God for the soul of his brother Rodrigo.
The camera shows the projector, its beam of light over the heads of the public,
and then the faces of the spectator.
An intertitle informs us of the evens that led Felipe II to dominate the world.
Now the film begins in earnest.
Spain has annexed Portugal and now rules over almost the whole of the Americas.
In a church a preacher talks about famine, plague and war. In another church
a second preacher predicts that, as long as the people fights the heretics,
an era of conquest is about to begin.
A middle-aged judge, Pelagio,
has received a letter from a poor cousin who is dying alone in the mountains,
the mother of six girls, one of which is the beautiful Musica.
He decides to visit his cousin and to send his younger wife to wait for him
at a place on the way to the African colony
of which he has been appointed governor.
He entrusts his wife Prouheze, nicknamed Maravilla, to his friend Balthazar.
In the garden Camilo tries in vain to seduce Prouheze, incinting her to
elope with him.
He has been appointed commander of the city of Mogador in Africa,
which he conquered from the Muslims.
He sounds delirious, so full of himself. She is not impressed,
preferring men who behave like faithful Christians, soldiers, citizens and husbands.
Elsewhere, Luis and Isabel swear love to each other. She asks him to kidnap
her in order to avoid her fate with the cruel Fernando.
Balthazar confronts Prouheze, who is determined to disobey her husband and
has, in fact, summoned Rodrigo with a letter delivered via a gypsy.
She is in love with Rodrigo, despite respecting her husband, and is
not afraid of being killed by her husband.
Her marriage has not been happy: they have had no
children and he leaves her alone most of the time.
She worships the Virgin Mary and, before leaving, she deposits
one of her satin slippers on a statue her.
(The play actually opens with Rodrigo who, following a shipwreck, awakes on
the African coast to the sight of Prouheze, and that is enough for the two to
fall in love, but in the film this event, and Pelagio's first gig in
Africa, is only mentioned in passing).
The king is worried that the Americas are falling in to anarchy: all he hears
of is looting and massacres.
His advisor suggests to place the young
Rodrigo as Viceroy of the West Indies and Panama.
Rodrigo, who looks more like an adverturer
than a respectable officer,
is not excited at all and plans to escape from Spain. He
discusses with his Chinese servant his love for Prouheze.
They see that pilgrims
on the way to Santiago de Compostela
are being attacked by highway bandits and Rodrigo
jumps on his horse and runs to the rescue,
saving a noble and his lady,
but unaware that he has just foiled Isabel's plan to elope with Luis while
killing Luis himself and leaving Isabel suicidal.
Elsewhere, the Neapolitan soldier Alferez
and Prouheze's African maid Jobarbara argue over
a bracelet that she naively gave him. He is a scammer who has just seduced
a girl, Delicia, nicknamed Musica, promising that she would become the queen
of Naples, without even knowing if there really is a viceroy of Naples.
The girl accepted to elope with him because she was being force to marry
a brute (presumably by Pelagio himself).
Prouheze chats with the gullible Musica, who still believes the story of the viceroy
of Naples. Now they are both prisoners in the castle.
Prouheze herself has asked to be protected: she doesn't want to yield to her
desire for freedom. She tells Musica that she actually wants to suffer,
and wants Rodrigo to suffer too.
In a blueish scene the black Jobarbara is dancing naked.
Rodrigo's Chinese servant, who has been spying her from behind a boulder, insults her
but then asks her to tell Prouheze that Rodrigo was mortally wounded, is dying
at the nearby castle of his mother Honoria, and wishes to
see her love one last time.
Jobarbara replies that the castle is too well guarded for Prouheze to exit it.
Rodrigo's servant knows that Musica is inside the castle, and has met the
knights who are hunting her and will certainly attack the castle, so that
Prouheze can take advantage of the turmoil and escape.
After a dialogue with her guardian angel, who grants her the mirage of Rodrigo,
Prouheze leaves the castle on a boat with Musica and Jobarbara
while the assailants kill Balthazar.
The next act is introduced by the author in person, who steps on stage while
theater workers are changing the set. He reproaches Honoria who is entering
too soon, then fetches Prouheze backstage and she follows him walking like
a mannequin. The author describes the setting of their encounter in
Honoria's castle and instructs the actresses. He finally walks out and the
film can resume with Pelagio arriving to the castle in search of Rodrigo,
who has to serve the king.
Honoria fears her son Rodrigo, who has been unconscious for 15 days and
keeps uttering Prouheze's name. She feels that Prouheze's presence keeps him alive.
Pelagio knows that his much younger wife loves Rodrigo. But they both agree
that this is a dangerous love and the two lovers must be separated.
Pelagio confronts his wife calmly and asks her to become his deputy in Mogador,
supervising Camilo, even knowing that Camilo has tried to steal Prouheze from him.
Note that Pelagio has lost any motivation to govern Africa, and he would gladly
surrender it to the Muslims because it costs money and lives to defend it, but
it is his wife who reminds him that his mission is to defend that colony,
and money is not a good argument to betray his mission in life.
Near Naples a captain, his three friends and a priest chat standing still
in front of the camera. The captain has sent
the most beautiful girl of Naples, accompanied by
her mother, to the Flemish painter Rubens, as a challenge.
On the way to Santiago de Campostela a woman impersonating a constellation
(the "grand apostle of the firmament") indulges in a long
soliloquy. Behind her stands a tall man in uniform. At the end of her talk
flames envelop her.
Pelagio is summoned by the king, who has decided to remove Prouheze from her command
of Mogador; a woman who has to contend alone with bandits and Muslims.
The king has decided to entrust the letter to Rodrigo, precisely because he
wants him to see the face of Prouheze one more time, and then head for America,
as a test of loyalty.
Pelagio is skeptic that his wife will obey because he senses that she is happy
there, far from him, focused on her destiny.
Rodrigo, who has obviously recovered, sails towards Mogador carrying the royal
letter. During the journey his ship stumbles into
a debris of the ship (named Santiago) on which his brother the priest died.
Another bluish scene shows Musica and the handsome viceroy of Naples in
a forest. It turns out that there is indeed a viceroy of Naples, and
Musica was the only survivor of a shipwreck that killed the
The romantic Musica can read his mind.
Camilo meets Rodrigo in the torture chamber of the African fortress and delivers
Prouheze's reply to the letter that asks her to return to Spain: she refuses,
and doesn't want to see Rodrigo either. Camilo mocks him and Rodrigo departs
Rodrigo in America, officially appointed viceroy of the Indies,
presides over the conversion of the "Indians", which is
accompanied with looting and murder.
A surreal scene follows in which we see the two lovers as
merely two black silhouttes, two shadows merging into one embrace.
Then the Moon (with a female face and female voice) speaks about
Prouheze's agony of love.
As the camera moves closer to the Moon, we see that it is Prouheze's
face inscribed into the circle of the full Moon.
Suddenly the action shifts to Prague, where Musica, wearing a fur but looking
like a nun, prays in a church. She has followed her husband,
the viceroy of Naples, and she is pregnant of the future king
Juan of Austria while Europe is stricked with endemic warfare.
And we already see her child appear and grow up, while a woman proclaims
a text of St Boniface reading it from a parchment (Boniface comments on
things that happened centuries after his death).
In an excess of symbolism, a beheaded person walks next to her (Boniface
The regular story resumes aboard a ship with
Isabel's brother who meets a gentleman from the University of Salamanca
on his way to work for the viceroy of the Indies, Rodrigo.
This Salamanca scholar is critical of everything, he even
curses Columbus and Magellan. Isabel's brother relates how a letter written
by Prouheze in Mogador ten years earlier has been lost and found so many times,
passing from hand to hand through an incredible series of incidents, until
he finally reached him. It is still sealed and it is about time that it gets
delivered to Rodrigo. The Salamanca scholar begs to have the letter, so that he
can be well received by viceroy Rodrigo.
We learn that Isabel is now married to the powerful Ramiro, second only to
the viceroy Rodrigo.
On a ship off the Orinoco delta Almagro talks with Rodrigo about his service,
how he risked his life in the jungle, and not for money.
He confesses that he doesn't know what drove him.
Almagro despises Rodrigo, whom he holds responsible for the tragedies of
America. Rodrigo threatens to hang him for treason, but then admits that
no matter how much Almagro hates him he, Rodrigo, cannot hate back: he
has protected Almagro for ten years, and watched how he protected
"Indians" and black slaves. Rodrigo offers him
the Indies south of Lima.
In another surreal intermezzo,
a peasant woman is beating a stuffed dummy of the Salamanca scholar, Leopoldo,
from a tree. The Salamanca scholar died (of a sunstroke) as soon
as he landed in the New World, and she wants the famous letter that was never
delivered to Rodrigo, but she doesn't want to touch it in person because the
letter has brought misfortune to all its carriers. The letter eventually
falls from the coat of the dead man.
In another surreal intermezzo we see the newly appointed Mexican governor
Ramiro and Isabel depicted as tarot cards and talking about politics.
Prouheze's lost letter drops gently like a feather in front of them.
They are in Panama at the court of Rodrigo and scheming against him.
The naive Isabel has become a cynical politicians and tells Ramiro that,
while she does not love him, she will help him oust Rodrigo and take his
place as viceroy. She thinks that she can use the letter to convince Rodrigo
to abandon the Indies.
Prouheze is camping in a tent outside Mogador by the beach.
Camilo in a hooded tunic walks into the tent while she is asleep and deposits
in her hand a bead of her rosary that she had lost.
She dreams that a giant globe of the Earth is revolving, showing first
the Americas and then stopping on Japan.
The guardian angel appears in her dream. She begs him
that he will keep her from running away from her husband and to her lover
(whom she has still to meet in person).
Again, she is mostly concerned with avoiding sin.
The guardian angel predicts death.
In his palace at Panama the viceroy Rodrigo is afflicted by existential
boredom, surrounded by bad musicians. All the administrative work is carried
out by his trusted secretary Rodilard.
Rodrigo is tired of America and still thinks of Prouheze.
Isabel intones a melancholy song.
Rodrigo does not believe the letter exists but Isabel, possibly his lover,
produces it: it took
ten years for the letter to reach Rodrigo, traveling through so many
countries, and to open finally opened. In the letter she asked for help against
Prouheze's husband Pelagio died and she married Camilo,
who converted to Islam and became the renegade pirate Ochiali, because otherwise
he was threatening to betray the king of Spain and to deliver Mogador to the
Muslims. She did it to serve her king and her country.
However, he is unhappy because he knows that she keeps thinking of Rodrigo.
They have a daughter but he feels that the girl is more Rodrigo's than his own.
They converse in the same tent of the previous scene, and she speaks while
lying reclined like she was when she was sleeping and dreaming.
Camilo/Ochiali knows that Rodrigo finally received her letter.
He pulls out a dagger and threatens to kill her if she does not renounce
Rodrigo leaves for Mogador as Isabel had predicted. He tells
Ramiro that his trip is purely business, but it is obviously a lie.
Rodrigo receives from Rodilard a book of poems and candidly tells
Isabel that Rodilard is the only one he will miss. Isabel retorts that
she hates him (perhaps jealous that he is only in love with Prouheze).
When Rodrigo's ship reaches Mogador, Prouheze takes her daughter and approaches
the ship. For the first time the lovers meet in person. It is a cold and
bitter meeting though. She warns him against killing Ochiali: the king of
Spain needs him. In fact she married Ochiali because she was left without troops
and only Ochiali's band could defend Mogador.
She explains that she did it because it was the only way to fulfill her duties,
but she confirms that she always loved him, Rodrigo.
He is reluctant to leave her there. After all he has traveled all the way to
Africa responding to her letter in which she called for his help against
Camilo. His men too would like to free this woman, a Catholic and
the former wife of a noble Spaniard,
from the captivity of a Muslim pirate.
She returns to Mogador and to her legitimate husband,
but entrusts to him
her daughter Mary of the Seven Swords
(a reference to the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, which are often represented as daggers piercing her heart)
whom she had from Camilo, introducing
her as his (Rodrigo's) spiritual child.
However, she is not planning to spend the rest of her life with Ochiali/Camilo
but ready to blow up the citadel of Mogador so that it won't fall to the
Ten years later on the Mediterranean sea some young impertinent fishermen
comment that Rodrigo is now a middle-aged man who lost a leg in the Philippines
fighting the Japanese after having been demoted by
the king for having deserted his post in America, and now earns
earns his living painting religious icons for sailors.
On a ship Rodrigo is conversing with his loyal painting assistant Daibutsu,
and telling a royal messenger that he is no longer interested in being
Prouheze's daughter Seven Swords, instead, dreams of continuing her mother's religious
war against the Muslims, and hopes to talk Rodrigo into leading the
expedition, as she confides to her friend the daughter of the
butcher; but the friend, equally enthusiastic, points out that
Musica's son Juan of Austria is a much greater leader than the aging Rodrigo,
and in fact the king of Spain has appointed Juan to command
the fleet that is sailing towards Africa to regain it from the Turks.
In his palace the king of Spain contemplates a gift from Rodrigo, a giant
white crystal, a translucid skull that Rodrigo found in an ancient Mexican
grave. The king is mourning the failure of his military campaign against
England. The chamberlain brings him the news that Rodrigo has refused the
mission. The king summons an actress, the lover of his half-brother Felipe,
who thinks that Spain has just
conquered England and that her Felipe has been appointed governor of England,
ready to fall in love with
Mary, the Catholic queen that Felipe will restore to the throne.
To avoid that fate, she gladly accepts to play the part of queen Mary
and fool Rodrigo into becoming the governor of England.
It is all a prank, because Spain has just been defeated by England.
The king merely wants to humiliate Rodrigo.
Another surrealist intermezzo:
the actress is getting ready to play her part when she suddenly realizes
that the scene is already being played by another actress on the other side
of the curtain.
The fake Mary has become a good friend of Rodrigo's. She begs for his help
to govern England, but he still refuses.
An odd detour:
on a ship bound for Spain the once ambitious Diego is
returning poor and older after ten years to
the woman he has loved all his life, Austregesila, fearing that she must
have married someone else; but instead she has remained faithful to him
and even administered his property so that he is actually
the richest man in town.
Seven Swords is jealous of the fake Mary, who is monopolizing Rodrigo's
attentions. She tries to talk him into joining her crusade against the
Muslims that occupy her hometown, but Rodrigo is skeptic. He sees "liberation"
as transferring those subjects from one prison to another one (his own Spain).
The king of Spain summons the aging Rodrigo, who now needs reading glasses
to read his own writing. Everybody at court knows that Spain has been
defeated by England but the king has ordered everybody to pretend that the
opposite happened. The king offers England again to Rodrigo. He even asks
Rodrigo to pressure Mary (knowing she is just a fake) into marrying his son.
Rodrigo reads his conditions to accept the position of governor of England:
no troops, no money and don't count on that marriage.
His goal is universal peace, a united Europe, no more wars.
He wants America to be open to all Europeans.
Seven Swords and the butcher's daughter are swimming. Seven Swords,
Prouheze's daughter, has decided to elope and join the crusading fleet of
Musica's son Juan of Austria,
defender of Christianity and soon winner of the battle of Lepanto (where
the Turkish navy was destroyed by the Christian navy).
The king finally drops any pretense and has Rodrigo arrested
for high treason and is to be sold as a slave.
The guards, mocking him (the whole world is laughing that the prank that
the king played on him), read the farewell letter that his daughter has left
for him. She mentions that she will have a cannon fired when she boards
Juan's ship. The soldiers joke that she might be dead because the fishermen
fished a girl who drowned (the butcher's girl, presumably).
A nun in search of charity boards the ship. Rodrigo offers herself to him,
a cheap slave since he is old and one-legged. The soldiers sell it to her
for spare change. As he is leaving, now reduced to the servant of a nun,
a cannon roars in the distance, the sign that his adopted daughter
has joined Juan's convoy, and, more importantly, that she is alive.
The camera moves back and shows the stage of the theater with the actors
playing the last scene, and the choir of children above the stage.
The mediocre and amateurish
Non Ou a Ve Gloria de Mandar/ No or the Vain Glory of Command (1990)
is little more than an erratic history lesson about the events that took
Portugal from being a Roman province to being an imperial power.
It is driven by the conversations among drafted soldiers sent to die in
Africa. Most of the historical reconstructions and especially the
battle scenes are (unintentionally)
bordering on slapstick comedy, poorly acted and engineered.
Even the photography is trivial.
The final message, that a nation's greatness depends on its achievements
and not on its military victories (omitting to mention that all those
discoveries depend on and lead to military adventures).
Possibly his worst film yet.
The camera dances around tropical trees, showing only their tops.
A military vehicle drives along a straight dusty road through the jungle.
Armed soldiers in the back of the truck stare at the landscape without
saying a word. The action takes place
in Angola, when it was still a Portuguese colony and guerrillas were fighting for
The cynical Manuel doesn't believe in the official propaganda, he is aware
that they are pawns in the grand schemes of world politics.
The idealist Brito instead believes in defending the homeland and the people.
Pedro curses the cowards who left the country to avoid the draft, pretending
to be pacifists or antifascists.
Pedro feels nostalgic of his home.
The commander talks about the national hero Viriato who fought the Romans.
Brito is skeptic about the civilization that whites brought to the African
pagans (the same way that the Romans brought civilization to Portugal).
A flashback shows
Roman troops easily defeated by Viriato's rebels.
Viriato wanted independence for his people (ironically what the guerrillas
want from Portugal).
A wordless flashback shows the assassination of Viriato by three traitors.
Their commander, who obviously has studied history, then tells the story of the
war against Spain to unite the Iberic peninsula, that ended with no winners.
Eventually the two countries opted for a lasting peace and even a political
union by having the
Portuguese prince Alfonso marry the princess Isabella of Castilla.
Alas, a few months later the prince died in a horse-riding incident, and
the two countries returned to their old rivalry.
During a break the soldiers comment that the real glory of the nation rests
with the great explorers like Vasco de Gama and Magellan, appropriately
mythologized in Camoes' nationalistic epic.
This time the flashback is a fairy tale in which the explorers and their crew
land in a sort of Eden where gorgeous girls frolic naked while
cherubs shoot arrow in the sky.
Manuel doubts that the universe and human history make any sense. They could
just be the accidental product of a moment of distraction on the part of God.
The soldiers reach their destination, a camp where other soldiers cheer their
The friends discuss girls. Pedro doesn't have a girlfriend and doesn't trust
women. They can't help cursing the war that is keeping them away from their
families. The commander mentions the utopian vision of
Antonio Viera's "fifth empire" (after Greece, Rome, Christianity and Europe),
a universal empire with one religion speaking one language.
But history has been more complicated. A flashback tells the story of when,
in 1578, the idiotic Portuguese king Sebastiao was defeated by a Muslim army at Alcazarquivir/ Alcacer Quibir in Morocco: three kings died, including the
childless (and virgin) Sebastiao.
The battle, for which Portugal had amassed a multinational force,
took place despite the fact that the Moroccan
sultan had offered a generous compromise to the Portuguese king.
(The battle is a ridiculously long flashback).
A couple of years later Spain invaded Portugal and annexed it.
The soldiers go on patrol in the jungle and
the commander is killed in an ambush.
The camera walks through the infirmary of the military hospital where he is
dying and a flashback relates the wounded soldiers to the famous battle of 1578
(with the actors who impersonated the soldiers now impersonating the nobility)
implying that this war is as pointless as that one was.
The doctors try to reanimate the commander while one of the soldiers lying
in a nearby bed, his face completely bandaged except for one eye, stares
A Divina Comedia/ Divine Comedy (1991),
partially based on Jose Regio's play "A Salvacao do Mundo" (1954),
is an ambitious apologue:
a sample of Western civilization meets in a mental asylum; the characters
quote the Bible,
Dostoevsky's novel "Crime and Punishment" and Nietzsche's philosophical book
"Anti-Christ"; and one story flows into the other, with an ending that
focuses on the conflict between atheism and faith but leaves the question
unanswered of which one is best for humankind.
Nor is it clear what it means that at the very end of a film on the madness of
human civilization we are reminded in the very last seconds that this is
just a film.
A woman runs frantically in a hallway and calls Raskolnikov for help.
Adam and Eve frolic naked in the garden, and she offers him an apple smiling.
Suddenly a storm begins pouring rain on them. A snake crawls in the grass.
People in white uniform come to their rescue with umbrellas.
We are obviously in a mental asylum. However, when people congregate around
a large table for dinner, it is hard to tell who are the patients and who are
The man in a suit and tie sitting at the head of the table (that turns out to
be Nietzsche, the philosopher who wrote the "Anti-Christ")
addresses a prophet, who claims to have written a book. Another young man
rises and pretends to be Jesus.
A man murders a woman with an axe and then seals her money, like
Raskolnikov does in Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment ". Then he kills
a woman who enters the house. Then... he wakes up in a bed with a doctor
by his side.
In the garden Nietzsche and the prophet discuss God, the first one mocking the
idea and the second one brandishing the fifth Gospel that still has to be revealed.
Eve now claims to be Santa Teresa d'Avila and doesn't want to talk to Adam anymore.
Raskolnikov looks for Sonia, the prostitute who falls in love with Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", but she is not in her room.
He finds her in the living room where Mary is playing the piano, with Martha
sitting next to her: these are Lazarus' sisters. Lazarus is lying in a coffin
in the back.
Raskolnikov and Sonia reenact a long scene from the novel, virtually word
(Part IV - Chapters IV-VI).
Mary stops playing and everybody in the room starts listening
to the dialogue between the two lovers that has taken a tragic turn.
Sonia begins reading from the Bible the episode of Lazarus, and he makes
faces inside his coffin. Jesus, the prophet and the sisters assemble around
the coffin and Lazarus rises and walks away.
The prophet is upset that Nietzsche is flipping through the pages of the
fifth Gospel, but Nietzsche shows that all the pages are blank.
The duo watches Mary play the piano.
Nietzsche tries to make love to Eve in her room, but she now thinks she is the saint Teresa
and not only rejects him but even jumps from the window (without getting
Jesus climbs on a table and starts preaching to the others. The Pharisee points
out that Sonia is a prostitute and she runs away in shame, but Jesus forgives
Nietzsche tells Adam to give up hope to ever have sex with Eve again. Adam is
The Pharisee calls Jesus an impostor.
Adam, instead, begs Jesus (in vain) for help with Eve.
The director of the mental asylum welcomes a visitor,
who introduces himself as Ivan Karamasov (from another Dostoevsky novel).
He has come to visit his brother Aliosha and also asks the director if he
can move into the hospital, but the director replies that
the place is full.
The director sits at the same table and listens at the two brothers reenact
a scene from the novel, while Lazarus (always carrying his coffin around)
eavesdrops from outside. Soon all the patients assemble outside the door
and listen attentively. Ivan reads the scene of the Inquisitor.
The director interrupts him and asks whether that passage could be adapted
to contemporary politics, to the ideologies of the 20th century.
The director admits that he is an atheist and a pessimist, that he believes
neither in God nor in the human race, that he is disgusted by the
permanent religious wars of the world.
Then he apologizes for the interruption and Ivan continues to read and
to discuss with Aliosha. They conclude on a note of love, and all the patients
kiss each other (Eve/Teresa runs away terrified when Nietzsche kisses her).
Jesus steals the show with one of his delirious speeches and is dragged
away by two assistants of the director.
Raskolnikov and Sonia reenact in Sonia's bedroom another scene from "Crime and Punishment" (Part V - Chapter IV, when he confesses his murders to her).
The Pharisee breaks into Sonia's room lusting for her but Raskolnikov threatens to kill him.
Sonia and Raskolnikov look for the director but discover that he has hanged
Raskolnikov is upset because he had decided to confess his crime and has to be
dragged away: he shouts that he killed Isabel, the director's sister.
A white dove flies into the room where all the patients are assembled.
Jesus and others welcome it as the Holy Spirit. Nietzsche dismisses it as
just a bird. The bird shits on his face and flies away. All the patients rush
to the balcony to watch it disappear and then walk outside.
The film ends with a dialogue between
Nietzsche and the prophet. The prophet feels sorry for Nietzsche's materialism
and Nietzsche feels sorry for the people who believe in superstitions like
religion: Raskolnikov and Sonia crawl on their knees in circles, a traditional
Catholic penance. Inside the mansion Mary is playing the piano. The others
stare at her intensely emotional playing until she collapses on
the keys. Then a member of the DeOliveira's film crew cuts the scene... (and the "Cut!" tablet is upside down).
O Dia Do Desespero/ The Day of Despair (1992) is a biopic of sorts,
devoted to the life and suicide of Camilo Castelo Branco via his letters
and other people's letters. In a sense, it is the ultimate product of
DeOliveira's passion for interpreting and representing other people's texts
in unorthodox, non-linear manners. Here there are actors, but their acting is
subtle: they talk directly to the camera, dressed in ordinary clothes,
not in period costumes. They are "acting" DeOliveira's film but their acting
consists in pretending that they are talking to us; which is, of course,
what an actor actually does.
Camilo's life is reconstructed, not represented, and certainly not reenacted.
Despite the harrowing finale, it is still a very minor film.
The camera focuses on the wheel of a caleche that is slowly advancing on
a dirt road. The voiceover reads letters written by Camilo to his daughter Amelia,
including a letter written in a suicidal mood while he is old and sick,
and mourns the death of his mistress Ana.
We are introduced to the narrator of the story, Mario, and then to the
actress Teresa who will play Ana. Teresa tells us that Ana was
a strong woman who dumped her husband to become Camilo's lover, indifferent
to the scandal.
The actress guides us through the house where they lived.
She tells us that he was arrested for adultery, and in 15 days in prison
(the same prison where his uncle Simon had been locked for killing a rival in love)
Camilo wrote his masterpiece "Amor de Perdicao/ Doomed Love" (1862).
Suddenly the store switches to Camilo's uncle Simon who writes from prison
to his loved one, Teresa, who has been locked in a convent. She hopes that
some day her father will die and she will get a pardon for Simon from the king.
Then the actress quotes some lines from a letter written by Ana to a friend,
in which Ana describes how cruel Camilo was with the woman who had sacrificed
everything for him. The actress also mentions that Ana suffered a lot,
struggling with raising her (illegitimate) children and disease.
The male narrator adds that Camilo was a womanizer, and the only "woman" he
really loved was death.
We see the aging Camilo write his will and we learn that one of his sons,
Jorge, was mad. Camilo left a generous sum to his daughter Amelia.
The actress (who so far has only acted a few seconds of Ana's life) informs
us that Camilo eventually married Ana only when he needed to regularize their
relationship in order to obtain the title of viceroy from the king.
We also learn that Camilo was going blind, and was determined to commit
suicide rather than losing the ability to write. His only hope was
that an ophthalmologist would find a cure for him.
Now dressed like Ana, the actress whispers to us that after 15 years of
concubinage Ana published a novel under a pseudonym.
Ana bore him three sons: Manuel, Nuno, and Jorge.
Finally, a real scene is enacted, with the actors actually playing their roles
in period costumes. It is the last day of his life.
Finally, a distinguished ophthalmologist came to visit the blind Camilo.
When he left, Camilo calmly asked Ana to show him to the gate and then he
The she listen to Ana retelling the events of the last day that we just saw.
The film closes the same way it had opened: the camera focuses on the wheel
of a coach, except this time it is the funeral coach taking Camilo to the
cemetery. And, with the camera facing the tombstone that bears his name,
we hear his voice coming from the otherworld, crying that he feels
cold and cursing that it takes so long for the flesh to turn into dust.
Vale Abraao/ Abraham's Valley (1993) is the transposition of
Augustina Bessa-Luis' novel of 1991.
The heroine of the novel is basically a
complement to Flaubert's "Madame Bovary".
She cannot find real love, nor a purpose in life,
and her only friend is a woman who can't even talk.
She leads an empty life, a life whose only meaning seems to be the lust that
she awakes in so many men.
DeOliveira films this story in an
emotion-less minimalist voiceover-dominated Bresson-ian style with frequent
scenes of mirrors (metaphors for a woman who is searching for herself).
The film, however, is too long for its own sake, and, as it is often the
case, vastly inferior to the book.
The story is set in an old-fashioned rural world among the new bourgeoise
nobility that inhabits the wealthy villas in the outskirts of town.
In a restaurant Carlos, a middle-aged doctor, meets a wealthy widower and his
limping teenage girl Ema. Despite her infirmity and her young age, she radiates
Ema lives in a country mansion with a vineyard. Her father employs
four female servants, including a dumb and deaf woman, Ritinha,
who remained virgin for fear of giving birth to handicapped children.
Her aunt Augusta is very religious and prays every day in front of a colossal
medieval altar. She reproaches Ema for reading love stories.
Ema realizes that men stare at her with lust.
Her visits to the fence facing the road even causes an accident, and
even the mayor complains with Ema's father.
One of the servants, Branca, is having an affair with the brilliant
Nelson, who is in love with Ema.
When Ema's aunt Augusta dies, the doctor is also asked to visit Branca. It turns
out that Branca had a secret abortion after getting pregnant of Nelson.
Carlos keeps the secret. In this occasion he meets again Ema, now a young
woman (and now played by an older actress). Ema's father arranges a marriage
with Carlos, and she moves into his large house, leaving behind her loyal
Carlos' sisters don't like her and Carlos leaves her mostly alone because,
as a doctor, he is always out at every hour of the day and the night.
Her father is having second thoughts about marrying his daughter to the doctor
and feels lonely, and ends up getting drunk in his empty mansion.
She is bored, surrounded by dull bourgeoise couples like Pedro and Simona and by
intellectuals like the erudite and philosophical Dossem.
Eventually she has two daughters, Lolota and Luisona, but even they cannot
bring happiness to her life.
She ends up becoming the lover of the rich and divorced Fernando, who owns a
villa by the river and takes her on speedboat rides. Ema fascinates Fernando's
butler Caires and his nephew Fortunato.
Ema de facto abandons her girls to Carlos' sisters in order to spend all her
time at Fernando's villa, even when Fernando is not there.
When she calls home, the girls are excited to hear her voice and can't wait
to see her again, but she doesn't seem to reciprocate.
Carlos' older friend Maria shows him that she has furnished a nice room for her
aging husband Semblano to meet his lovers. She has made it easy for him to
cheat on her.
When Ema finally returns to Fernando's mansion, he is not there and she
seduces the butler's nephew, Fortunato, a much younger man.
The butler himself lusts for her, and is jealous of the boy.
Fortunato gets married and Fernando is still traveling around the world,
but Fernando's mansion has become her real house. She even washes the floors
sometimes like a servant.
Ema leaves the mansion just when Fernando is coming back and returns to
Carlos' home. Carlos too is never there anyway. He makes lots of money,
though, and doesn't mind that his adulterous wife spends them in jewelry.
Simona's husband Pedro tells her that she thinks like a man. Ema tries to
seduce him and is disappointed that he proclaims his loyalty to his wife.
Carlos visits Ema's father and explains his unhappiness with Ema.
He also reveals that their daughter Lolota, who is only 14, claims to be
pregnant, but is still a virgin...
Semblano dies of a heart attack.
His son Narciso becomes Ema's next lover, even though his mother, Carlos'
good friend Maria, was hoping to marry him to her daughter Lolota.
Still, Ema remains melancholy and unsatisfied.
Dossem meets the family at Ema's paternal house and is surprised to see Ritinha washing clothes in the old-fashioned manner. Ema explains that it is not to
save on washing machines but to let Ritinha's life have meaning. In turn,
Ritinha is a mute observer of everything that happens: she knows everything
but she cannot talk about it.
Dossem talks about politics and history, boring everybody except one of
Ema's daughters who leaves with him (under the implacable scrutiny of
Then Fernando's former butler Caires comes to pay a visit. He spent two years
abroad and came back a rich man. He bought a villa nearby.
He heard that Carlos lost money in the stock market and confesses he spent
all those years dreaming of Ema. He is now in a position to offer her a
better life than her own husband can. Centuries of feudal history are
overturned: Ema feels insulted and leaves. But first
she gives Ritinha, her only friend, a flower and a hug.
Ema returns to Fernando's mansion, emptier than ever now that Fernando is
gone, the butler is gone, and Fortunato is gone. She puts on the dress she
had when she was an adolescent and she walks to the pier, but accidentally
drowns. A few days later Carlos dies of a heart attack too.
A Caixa/ The Box (1994), based on the play by Prista Monteiro,
is set in the working class, almost a return to the neorealism of his
O Convento/ The Convent (1995) is a very minor film.
The parable makes amateurish references to the "Faust" and of the "Odyssey".
The dialogues are mostly boring.
Even DeOliveira's proverbial visual skills here are tamed.
This could be his worst film ever.
Michael, a scholar from the USA
(John Malkovich), accompanied by his French wife Helene
arrives at a Portuguese convent.
He is welcomed by the caretaker Baltar
and his elderly assistan Balthazar and by the
female housekeeper Berta.
Michael explains that his mission is to
discover documents that could prove his theory that
Shakespeare was born in Spain and was Jewish.
Balthazar, who speaks multiple languages, gives them a tour of the convent's
grounds, and relates the various stories and legends.
He then introduces Michael to the young attractive librarian Piedade.
At night he is busy with his studies and neglects his sexually frustrated wife.
Berta is also an astrologist, and she reads in the signs that
Helene is dangerous, that Baltar has fallen under her spell and that
Piedade is mysterious.
The two mock the monks buried in the cemetery, pray
Satan and gossip that
Piedad was once married and has a daughter somewhere.
Michael begins to work with Piedade and tells her that she reminds him of
Ulysses' wife Penelope (implying that he would be Ulysses, and Helene perhaps
the Helen for whom a war is fought).
She reads Goethe's "Faust" to him.
Later Baltar recites "Faust" to Helene at the beach, then takes her to
a chapel that he jokingly describes as Lucifer's secret hideout and there he
declares his love for her.
That night Helene has a nightmare, presumably erotic in nature.
Meanwhile, Michael spends more and more time with Piedade, who is the exact
opposite of Baltar/Lucifer: all pure and angelic.
Helene admits to Baltar that he is the most attractive man she ever met,
but also confesses that she is jealous of Piedade.
She wants Piedade to be abandoned in the forest and in return she promises
to give herself to Baltar.
When she sees her husband in his studio, they don't exchange any word.
Baltar takes Piedade in the forest, and tells him that she is fascinated
by Michael's research, not by him personally, and, on the contrary,
she is fascinated by him, Baltar.
Piedade reveals that Michael suspects that the name "Shakespeare" is simply
derived from the name of a Spanish poet, Jacques Perez.
She speaks like a nun, and her innocence is painful to Baltar.
Michael and Helene are reconciled and the film ends with them embracing
at the beach. The ending intertitles tells us that Michael gave up his
research, that Baltar and Piedade were never found again, and that Balthazar
and Berta replaced them in the convent.
Party (1996), magically photographed by Renato Berta,
is ostensible an apologue about the decadence of the unhappy rich,
staging two wealthy couples (one young and one old) who live miserable lives,
but is dominated, hijacked and derailed by the overachieving dialogues
(as usual, by Agustina Bessa-Luis) that are a bit too subtle and
At a giant seaside mansion Rogerio and Leonor stare at the sea.
They are throwing a
garden party to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their marriage.
The special guests are their old friends
Irene and Michel, an elderly unmarried elegant couple.
He has a reputation as a womanizer, who probably cheated on Irene many times.
Leonor drives Michel to a swimming pool carved in the rock of the coast,
a gift of Rogerio's mother that Leonor feels is meant to remind them of the
mother's uterus. In a delirious and somewhat senile language,
Michel confesses that he's about to lose his mind for her while she is
hiding like a child among the rocks. She listens amused to his
philosophical talk and says that she is scared but then she smiles.
Meanwhile Irene and Rogerio chat about love and the sexes around a table,
and mock the guests, who are mostly aristocratic acquaintances of Leonor.
Rogerio admits that his wife doesn't love him, and that he doesn't love her,
and that she lives in a permanent state of melancholy.
Leonor and Michel return to the table and engage in a vulgar conversation
in front of Rogerio, who seems uncomfortable, and Irene, who laughs loud.
Leonor also mentions that she and Rogerio have two children, who are both away
in private schools.
But Rogerio makes the mistake of boasting that the children are getting the
best education to become successful adults, and Michel retorts that his
ambition is distorting their education.
The two women dislike each other, but politely.
Then suddenly Rogerio asks Michel and Leonor what they did when they left the
party, and Michel candidly replies that they "loved and nothing more",
which could mean that they had sex or that they discussed love, and then the
old man adds some cryptic sentences that make Irene comment that he sounds
either senile or childish (or embarrassed?)
A strong wind causes the garden party to break up just when the conversation
is getting tense.
Five years later the older couple returned to the villa for a dinner during
a very rainy night. Confined in the house, the conversation, again led by
the shameless Michel, drifts towards love and sex. Michel mentions the garden
party when he and Leonor left to be alone. Leonor interrupts him.
Irene gets up disgusted. Leonor tells Michel that they should not have come,
but Rogerio reveals that it was Leonor's idea to invite them.
Leonor confronts Michel in front of the other two: she tells him that she
never thought of him during those five years of separation, and that he is
too old for her and that she doesn't even like his personality.
Grouped around the fireplace, the four continue an unpleasant conversation
during which it sounds like each dislikes all of the others.
Then suddenly Leonor talks about how disturbed she was five years earlier,
how attracted she is to the old man whom she despises, and it sounds like we
are listening to her stream of consciousness because the others are behind her
and don't seem to react until she stops talking. She asks Michel to lead her
outside and they leave again. Irene asks Rogerio whether he is not afraid
of what his wife will do, and Rogerio answers calmly that he cannot lock her
in that prison. He trusts that routine is stronger than passion. Left alone,
Rogerio and irene discuss the character of women. She mocks his certainty
and challenges him to walk outside: she is sure that he would find the two
lovers in each other's arms. Then she gives him a lecture about the mythical
women of ancient Greece. Then she sings and dances in Greek. She identifies
with Electra, and calls Michel demon, not a lover. Meanwhile, Leonor and
Michel discuss their discussion of five years earlier, which both remember
fondly. He confesses his love for her, and sounds frustrated by the age
difference (he imagines himself as a derelict paraplegic while she is giving
birth to his child). She walks outside to get wet in the rain, calling it
a divine blessing. Then she walks upstairs to take a shower and change into
another dress, and reappears more beautiful than ever. She admits that she
would love to go back to the evening of the garden party, to that feeling
that he desired her in a beastly way. Leonor and Michel finally walk back
to the other two, and Leonor comments that the other two probably know
about her infatuation for Michel and his for her better than they themselves do.
Leonor announces that she is leaving with Michel.
Rogerio warns Michel that Leonor is a horrible person and even gets into
intimate details of her body. Rogerio concludes that it is fine with him if
she leaves. On the other hand, Irene calmly explains why it would not work:
Irene is the companion of a strong man, Leonor is the companion of a weak man,
and switching their roles would breed disaster. Irene's talk convinces Leonor
that Michel is nothing but a disgusting seducer. Nonetheless, Irene invites
Leonor to leave with them. Leonor gets dressed and packs a suitcase.
Irene prepares the car, we see Michel and Leonor chatting at the door, then
Michel walks to the car and slams the back door that was open for Leonor.
The elderly couple leaves and Leonor remains at the door. We don't know what
made her change her mind. Rogerio appears behind her and reveals that he has
lost all his money: they are ruined. She smiles, happy like a child, and starts
making plans about their future. It starts raining heavily.
The film then shifts gear to slapstick mode:
Rogerio slips when trying to bring inside her suitcase, then the suitcase opens
and all the clothes drop on the floor while he is fumbling with the umbrella.
It is almost as if DeOliveira is mocking his own pompous philosophical film.
Viagem Ao Principio Do Mundo/ Journey to the Beginning of the World (1997) is neatly divided into two parts.
The tone of the first part, the journey dominated by the old filmmaker,
is not so much of a Fellini-esque revisitation of
childhood (an impression reinforced by casting Mastroianni in the lead part)
as the tone of a verbose old man talking to younger people
about insignificant facts that make them curious about life in the past,
and that make him happy for having found an audience for his memories.
It is an indulgent autobiographical orgy (since the protagonist is an old
filmmaker and has the same name of DeOliveira) but it also happens over
space and not only time (it's a literal journey).
The documentarian style of this first part is hijacked by so many inessential
details (like when the girl makes Afonso repeat a poem in French). It feels
like four characters in search of a film. Obviously neither the dialogues nor
the plot are important in this kind of cinema, and one wonders what is it.
The second part answers it, although in an elliptical way. The first part
was merely preparing the contrast with the second part. In the second part
there is a new protagonist, the young man in search of his roots.
The old filmmaker was just enjoying the journey, whereas it's the young man
who is desperate to reconnect with his past, or, better, with the past that he
has never experienced. While nostalgic and melancholy,
Manoel was at peace when he was reconnecting with the past he had lived,
but Afonso is not at peace with the past he has not lived.
The symbol for both is the traditional hero Pedro Macau: memory is the burden
that nobody else helps you carry.
A violently dissonant soundtrack introduces the film while
the camera focuses on the road. There are four passengers in the car.
The oldest one, Manoel, is a filmmaker, and the other ones are actors
in his film. Manoel is discussing with the youngest, Judite, about their
age difference. They are on the way to visit the aunt of one of the actors,
Afonso, and that part of Portugal happens to be the place where Manoel
grew up. Manoel contrasts the idyllic world of his childhood with the
apocalyptic world of his old age.
After this exchange the dialogue pauses and the camera shows the road they
are leaving behind. The dissonant soundtrack fills the silence, accompanied
by the ticking of a clock.
They stop to stare at the boarding school where Manoel studied as a teenager.
They exchange political views. Manoel is apolitical. The school was Jesuit,
and the young Judite has trouble relating from the strict atmosphere of the
old religious school.
Manoel's soliloquy mixes nostalgic reminiscences of an era bygone and a
freenwheeling commentary on the state of the world.
As they get back into the car and start driving again, the camera continue
to point backwards while the characters are silent.
They drive through a touristy village with lots of shops and cobblestone
streets. As they leave the town and get into a highway, the soundtrack
mixes disjointed piano notes and sounds of traffic.
They stop again to visit a house that Manoel recognizes because of an odd
statue of a legendary hero: Pedro Macau, who is depicted carrying a burden
by himself. They walk the narrow alley to the funny sculpture while debating
the meaning of the short poem that tradition associates with that hero
(that Judite has to translate into French for Afonso, since he is the only
one who does not understand Portuguese).
They get in the car again, they chat a bit more,
the camera again looks at the road that they are leaving behind. The next stop
is at an abandoned hotel. Manoel is hurt seeing it so dilapidated. The
soundtrack turns to frantic dissonant piano.
To explain the meaning of "saudade", they tell the story of the lover betrayed
by his girl who also lost his hut at the same time.
As the film progresses, it becomes obvious that Afonso is the real stranger,
who has lived all his life in France and is alien to Portugal's history
and legends. He is the reason they are going on this trip, but he is also
the one who does not belong there.
The exercise of memory is contagious: the others start reminiscing too.
Afonso tells the story of this aunt whom he has never met, and of how he was
raised in France. His father died in a car crash.
Now that Manoel has virtually stopped talking, Afonso takes over as
the lead storyteller.
They briefly stop to cross on foot a roaring river on a stone bridge.
Then they return to the car. The music is extremely dissonant.
The camera does not show the road anymore, but the trees by the road.
Finally they arrive at the aunt's house.
she is not excited to hear that her lost nephew has come to visit her.
That branch of the family never showed any interest in her.
She is also disappointed that he does not speak Portuguese.
Her young friend Cristina, who is mourning a relative's death with her, speaks
French and volunteers to translate for him, as does Judite.
The aunt's husband is eavesdropping from the other room, and we see the scene
from his viewpoint as he opens the door.
The aunt has a low opinion of her late brother, who abandoned them. She
viciously mentions that he had many women. Her husband is
afraid that Afonso came because of the land that they just inherited from the
relative who died.
It sounds like they have never forgiven Afonso's father for abandoning the
family, and in addition she distrusts Afonso because he doesn't speak
Afonso convinces her that he is sincere and asks to see the cemetery of the
She finally accepts him and offers him bread.
She is worried about wars and contemporary life styles.
(Manoel was sarcastic about the present, she is terrified by the present).
But now it's her who asks the visitor about Afonso's father.
In a a very long shot in which the camera never moves, just fixed on the old
couple against a black background, she explains that life is hard in the
village, cold in winter, hunger. Still a teenager,
Afonso's father wanted to leave, and he did, without a word.
He was captured and sent a letter to get money to buy his freedom.
She felt that her brother forgot that they existed.
The husband says that the village, having lost so many of the young, is
"returning to the beginning of the world".
She is not impressed that he is a famous actor.
She despises cinema and television which she considers as inventions of the
devil, part of the moral disorder of the age.
Manoel walks around the cemetery while Afonso is praying with his aunt
in front of a grave. The time comes that they have to start driving back to
the location of the film that they are shooting, i.e. Manoel's film.
She hugs Afonso almost crying. Afonso admits to his friends that he had never
knelt before in his life. Manoel sarcastically comments that people these days
crawl all the time.
Manoel comments that he canot hug the people of his past anymore (they are all
dead), unlike Afonso who hugged his aunt.
A close-up of Pedro Macau brings us back to the modern world: the set of the
film. Backstage, Afonso is being dressed up as... Pedro Macau.
Manoel and the other actors burst out laughing at him, but
Afonso tells Manoel that he too is a Pedro Macau.
Inquietude/ Anxiety (1998), that conflates
Helder Prista Monteiro's play "The Immortals" (1968),
Antonio Patricio's story "Suzy",
and Agustina Bessa-Luis's "The Mother of a River" (1971),
the three stories flowing one into the other,
is probably the best film of the late career.
The three nested narratives seem to portend a potentially infinite number of
layers in the discussion about immortality.
A very old man walks out of his studio, which is full of books and has
scientific formulas on the blackboard, walks into his middle-aged son's studio
and yells "kill yourself!" They are both scientists, and the old man is the
most famous man of his generation. But he is also anxious about his legacy.
He feels that people are already forgetting him, and tells his son that the
same will happen to him. Hence suicide: kill yourself at the peak of your
career. His son objects that he is healthy, happy and famous too. His father
insists that it is all pointless: the only thing that truly impresses the
masses is death. The grumpy old man looks for a poison vial, but the son has
no desire to kill himself. One dreams of immortality, the other one still
wants to enjoy life. They start chatting about Marta, a pupil of the old man
whose portraits are everywhere in the house.
Suddenly the film moves to the woods, where the two men are having a picnic
with this Marta. Then back to the apartment where father and son are arguing.
The old man finds an excuse to have his son climb on a chair near the window
and then pushes him down the window, the scene witnessed by the family that
lives downstairs. The old man congratulates himself for having saved his son
from old age. Then he plunges himself, again his fall witnessed by his
(This is the excerpt from Prista Monteiro's play).
The poor illiterate peasant girl who finds immortality in the third episode
is the exact opposite of the famed city scientist who was looking for
immortality in the first episode.
She renounces love with a real lover whereas the romantic was in love with
a prostitute who did not love him.
Ironically, we know what happens to that immortal being: she will get
as frustrated of being immortal as she was of being mortal.
There is also some parallel between the first and second episodes: both
the prostitute, who wasted her life, and
the scientist, who did not waste his life, are unhappy, and both die.
It is not clear why all the male characters are nameless and all the
female characters have names, as if the discussion over immortality had
two completely different meanings for men and women.
The curtain falls, the audience starts clapping and we see that this was
a theatrical performance.
Two men notice two beautiful girls leaving their booth
and follow them doen the stairs. These are two high-society prostitutes,
Suzy and Gaby. The two friends amicably split them, the romantic one getting
The romantic (moustached) man
meets with Suzy in a vast room with walls of
painted landscape and a big gilded clock. She, dressed in a red robe,
plays the piano and sings for him. Admittedly she is very elegant for being
A count and a friend, accompanied by the two prostitutes,
arrive in a car to the restaurant where the two
friends are lunching.
The romantic is truly in love with Suzy, whereas his friend has no expectations
of Gaby, aware that she's just a professional.
He is jealous that she sleeps with others.
She has all
she wants: jewels, clothes, and men who worship her. But she admits that
she doesn't have happiness.
The two friends see again the two prostitutes with the
count and his friend, this time playing roulette at the casino.
The romantic (moustached) one is obsessed with Suzy, and his friend tries in vain to talk him sense, that she's just a prostitute like the others.
At home the romantic one tries to write a letter to Suzy about a boat trip
they took together, and we see it in a flashback. His friend shows up and
interrupts his dream. We learn that Suzy is dead. The romantic one is
(This is the excerpt from Antonio Patricio's novella).
His friend tells him a fairy tale and the film transitions into the third
setting, a mythical "second city of creation".
The story is narrated by an old woman (Irene Papas)
who lives by herself in the countryside. We see her watching the event that
There once was a peasant girl named Fisalina, a daydreamer who was tired of
life in her poor rural village with her aging parents.
She was courted by a handsome boy from another village but customs forbade her
to marry outside her village.
One day Fisalina decides to visit the old woman
who lives alone on the village outskirts,
who is known as "Mother of the River",
who speaks a foreign language (Greek),
and who claims to be not only old but a thousand-year old too
(and who sounds tired of such immortality).
Fisalina vents her frustration to the immortal witch,
and the witch takes her to a cave illuminated by candles.
There something happens to Fisalina, and the melancholy witch disappears.
The narrator is now a male voice again.
Fisalina shuns her lover, and she has no desire
to leave the village anymore.
During a religious ceremony
the women dressed in black and holding candles
scream hysterically when they see that her fingers
have grown golden tips.
They call her a witch and chase her out of the village while her lover
rings the bells of the church.
She happily hides in the witch's shack, ready to take her place.
The narrator knows that she will spend one thousand years there
before swapping lives with someone else.
(And this was the excerpt from Agustina Bessa-Luis's novel).
The film ends with the two friends in the apartment, the romantic one
still devoted to his Suzy and sorry for her wasted life.
La Lettre/ A Carta/ The Letter (1999) is a mediocre adaptation of
Madame de Lafayette's "The Princess of Cleves" (1678)
in a contemporary setting.
Palavra e Utopia/ Word and Utopia (2000) is the biography of
Antonio Vieira, the 17th-century Portuguese priest who fought against slavery
in the Portuguese colony of Brazil.
Porto da Minha Infancia/ Porto of My Childhood (2001) is
an autobiographical documentary.
Je Rentre a la Maison/ I'm Going Home (2001) is, at a first level,
a tale of how an old man tries to cope with a tragedy by retreating to a daily
routine of insignificant events (reading the newspaper at the cafe,
buying new shoes) but is eventually struck by the meaning of the tragedy
when that routine is altered by an extraordinary event (in this case,
a foreign director who forces him to impersonate a younger man).
Actors are playing Ionesco's "Exit the King". Gilbert, an old famous actor,
is playing the lead role. Behind the scenes the staff
is clearly worried about something. At the end of the performance, after the
audience has given the actors a standing ovation, the protagonist, Gilbert,
is told that his wife, his daughter and his son-in-law have been killed in
a car accident.
At a second level, the film contains three films/plays within the film
(Ionesco's "Le Roi Se Meurt/ Exit the King", Shakespeare's "The Tempest", Joyce's "Ulysses"),
each of which seems to act as a counterpoint to the main story (the protagonist
is like Ionesco's king who cannot cope with his own mortality,
but also a bit of a Prospero who, having rejected mundane life for a life
of magic, creates the tempest and the very story
that he is part of, and finally is a bit of a Buck Mulligan, Joyce's
the everyman's version
of Ulysses who has to survive the ordeals of an ordinary life).
The three impersonations also signal three stages that Gilbert goes through: the old man refusing to face mortality; the magician who creates his own drama; the obnoxious man who is only an accessory to Dedalus/Ulysses' journey and no longer the protagonist.
At a third level, one has the feeling that Oliveira is transposing at least
part of his own personality and life's history into the protagonist of this
film (for example, when the protagonist refuses to sell out to a tv series);
but then at the end this protagonist has to deal with a director as ambitious
and diligent in transposing a literary masterpiece to the screen.
At yet another level, the film is a lesson in cinematic language. It
features some of Oliveira's
trademark obliquely semiotic camera shots (showing a scene taking place on
the sidewalk by shooting it from the inside of a store so that we cannot hear
the words but have to guess from the gestures what is going on, or following
the shooting of a movie through the facial expressions of the director without
actually showing what the actors are doing, in a reverse case of hearing their
words but not seeing their movements).
Months later Gilbert wakes up in his room, and looks outside
into the garden where his grandson Serge (now an orphan) is playing with the
housekeeper and nanny, Guilhermine.
Gilbert walks to a cafe with his newspaper and stares at the traffic. We see the street through
his eyes, almost as in a documentary. Gilbert pays, leaves and another
gentleman takes the same table with his newspaper.
On the way home, he stops to look at the window of an art shop. The owner comes
out, excited, and talks to him. We cannot hear what they discuss because the
camera is now inside the store. As the owner walks back into the store, two
girls approach Gilbert and ask him for an autograph. Then the owner also walks
out with a notebook for Gilbert to sign an autograph. Gilbert keeps staring
for a bit at a painting, then walks to another store. Attracted by a pair
of shoes, he buys them and proudly wears them.
Back on the stage, Gilbert is impersonating Prospero in
Shakespeare's "The Tempest". A young actress is clearly in love with him.
At a cafe his agent irritates Gilbert by mentioning that this young actress
could be a way to forget his tragedy. Gilbert is disgusted by the idea of
having a girlfriend who could be his daughter. He claims to be happy with
That evening on the way home a junkie robs him of his new shoes.
But the following morning is back at the usual cafe, smiling, with his
newspaper. He pays, leaves, and again the other customer takes his table.
The agent, though, upsets him again by trying to have him sign a contract
for a tv serial (in which the young actress would be a co-star). He is not only upset by the idea of doing something
so debasing, but he is also nervous because he is wearing his old shoes again.
He goes shopping again and then takes a taxi to his favorite cafe.
We see the streets of Paris
through the window of the taxi. Gilbert sits at the same table. This time
the other customer finds him at the table and has to sit elsewhere. When
Gilbert leaves, the other gentleman tries to move to Gilbert's table but
yet another customer takes it before him. Disappointed, the other gentleman
returns to the other table.
Gilbert brings the gift that he just bought to his grandson Serge and then
they play together at home with the remote-controlled cars.
When they go to sleep and turn off the lights
of the house, a real car speeds outside.
The agent wakes him up in a hurry for an urgent meeting with a USA director
who is working on a film version of Joyce's "Ulysses" and
needs to fill a part in three days. That is hardly time enough for
Gilbert to memorize the part, but he accepts. He has to play Buck Mulligan,
a much younger character than he is. The staff of the film production uses
a wig and make-up to make him look younger. We see the rehearsal of the
first scene through the facial expressions of the director, without seeing
the actors. Eventually the director sends Gilbert home to study his text
better. But Gilbert falls asleep. When they return to shoot again that
scene, Gilbert cannot remember his lines. He stops reciting in English
and says in French that he's going home. He wanders through the streets of
Paris, continuing to recite his Buck Mulligan lines, walking like a drunk.
Serge sees him walk up the stairs still dressed in the costume, wearing the
wig and the make-up. Gilbert looks very tired, very old.
O Principio da Incerteza/ The Uncertainty Principle (2002), yet another
adaptation from Agustina Bessa-Luís, is a bit too
verbose, and perhaps tries too hard to be a normal domestic melodrama.
Camila, a frigid young woman, enters a cathedral. Her tutors and defenders,
brothers Daniel and Torcato, introduce the characters of the story.
Camila, whose family is not doing well, is torn between the
wealthy and aristocratic Antonio
and her childhood sweetheart, the poor Jose (son of Antonio's maid).
Eventually Camila accepts Antonio, but Antonio is having an affair with
Vanessa, the lady who runs the local brothel.
Camila seems to stoically accepts the betrayal until she consults a
statue of Joan of Arc.
Um Filme Falado/ A Talking Picture (2003) is a
history lesson with feminist overtones, and is also a hybrid of
the "Ship of Fools", Homer's "Odyssey",
Andrei Sokurov's "Russian Ark" and Fellini's "E la Barca Va".
The history scholar not only summarizes the history of the (Western) world
for her little daughter but also mingles with the aristocratic/intellectual
elite of the (Western) world that is traveling on the same cruise ship.
It is ironic that she, the one who is fluent in history, is killed in the
A woman, Rosa Maria, who is a professor of history, is leaving on a cruise ship
with her little daughter Maria Joana. The final destination is India but they
will stop along the way in places like Pompei, Athens, Cairo, etc.
The little girl is in charge of asking her mother about the history of these
places and the professor replies with lessons of history, replete with mentions
of female protagonists, and with plenty of
philosophical commentary. The allegorical peak of this philosophical
tour is a lengthy multilingual dinner: mother and daughter are dining in the
ship's restaurant when they notice the ship's captain, who speaks English,
dining with three women, each speaking a different language:
a business manager from France, a supermodel from Italy, a theatrical
actress from Greece.
We hear their conversation (and read the subtitles) and it sounds like each
of the three actresses (the three women are played by three famous actresses)
is speaking about herself.
The ship continues its placid majestic journey and the captain invites
Rosa Maria to join his multinational dinners. Rosa Maria is initially
reluctant but then accepts. And now the women speak English,
and, again, one feels that each of the
women (the actresses of the film) is speaking about herself
Then the captain is suddenly called for an emergency and the alarm goes off.
The loudspeakers ask all passengers to abandon the ship.
Maria Joana runs back to the cabin to pick up her doll. Her mother runs
after her. Then they rush back to the deck but all the boats have already
left. From one of the boats the captain shouts to jump. The ship explodes.
O Quinto Imperio/ The Fifth Empire (2004) is a costume drama
based on Jose Regio's "El-Rei Sebastiao". However, the real protagonists
is the giant dark castle in which the story takes place (thanks to Sabine Lancelin's
photography) and not so much the megalomaniac 16th-century
king who wants to start yet another crusade and engages in lengthy
dialogues with his mother, his subjects and his jesters.
Espelho Magico/ Magic Mirror (2005), another adaptation from
Agustina Bessa-Luis, is a satirical comedy about
the wealthy and bigot Alfreda,
married to a much older man,
a woman obsessed with the Virgin Mary, and a loyal employee,
Luciano, who tries in vain to talk sense into her and eventually decides to
hire a girl to stage a fake Virgin Mary visitation;
a grotesque Bunuel-esque allegory of the vain hypocritical madness
that consumes the bourgeoisie. But DeOliveira lacks the ebullient sarcasm of
Bunuel and the satire falls flat.
Belle Toujours (2006) is a sequel of sorts to Bunuel's masterpiece
Belle de Jour, and certainly not one of DeOliveira's best.
In fact, it is not quite an homage, but almost a reply from a different
(and quite misogynistic)
ideological angle because the protagonist here is the devil, the man who tempted Severine in the first place, a manipulative and perverted man who here sadistically persecutes her bringing back painful memories and reveling in the humiliation that comes with them.
He seems to have aged a lot better than her. She is torn by remorse,
he enjoys every bit of his elderly life.
The film begins in an auditorium where a classical orchestra is delivering a
thundering performance of a Dvorak symphony.
An elderly man, Husson (Michel Piccoli), is sitting among the audience.
At the end he rushes out to talk to Severine (Bunuel's "Belle" but he
He then walks the dark streets of he city and stops in front of a shopwindow
to admire some female mannequins.
By accident he finds Severine's traces: a bartender knows that she is staying
at a fancy hotel. At the hotel he bribes his way to her room but
she doesn't want to see him and drives away.
Husson returns to the bar and tells the bartender Benedetto what happened
forty years earlier (Bunuel's film)
without revealing that he was the one who slept with his
best friend's wife. He tells the bartender that she did what she did
because she loved her husband, that
she used her husband's best friend for her purpose.
The bartender listens incredulous.
Two curious women, one middle-aged and one younger,
keep listening to the concervation without understanding a word of it.
Eventually they step to the counter and
invite Husson to their table. The older lady is particularly frustrated,
flirting with both Husson and the young handsome bartender.
They are prostitutes, and they are frustrated that Husson ignores them.
Finally, he runs into her by accident in the street. She tries to run away
but he grabs her arm. They talk (we see the scene from above) and next
we see Husson nervously waiting for her in the private room that he has
booked at a top restaurant,
while a formal waiter is preparing their candlelight dinner.
She has not aged well, and she is obviously hostile to him, and doesn't feel
comfortable when he lowers the lights.
Severine's husband is dead, and she is toying with the idea of becoming a nun.
It turns out that she accepted the invitation to dinner only because he
promised to answer a mystery that apparently has haunted her all her life.
In Bunuel's film Husson had threatened to tell her husband the truth,
but the film didn't show whether he did or not.
He doesn't answer, leaving her the doubt. Instead he gives her
a buzzing black box, a relic of the brothel of Bunuel's film, the lacquered box
whose content was not revealed in Bunuel's film
(which means that Husson must have watched Bunuel's original, because in
Bunuel's film Husson does not know about the box, and it is unlikely that
Severine ever told me that detail).
Feeling insulted, Severine leaves the room.
But she has forgotten her purse. Even after Husson leaves the room, the
camera remains there, showing us the waiters who clean up.
Christopher Columbus the Enigma (2007) was another very minor film.
The even shorter and more amateurish
Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura/ Eccentricities of a Blond Haired Girl (2009),
based on a tale by Eca de Queiros and photographed by Sabine Lancelin,
is a morality tale about a delusional young man who is ready to destroy his
life for a beautiful woman he does not know at all.
The tale is clearly old-fashioned, grounded in an antiquated morality,
so that setting it into the 21st century as DeOliveira does only
makes it feel like a parody of the original tale.
This is a world in which people don't have telephones and spend their
spare time in literary salons, but at the same time there is heavy traffic
in the streets and one can fly to Africa.
As a statement on the cognitive dissonance between two ages it is marginally
surreal. It is also a world in which greed, theft and plain madness coexist
and compete, but DeOliveira does too little to expand on this theme.
The film opens with a bus conductor checking tickets.
One of the passengers, Macario, a handsome well-dressed, young man
starts talking to the unknown woman sitting next to him:
he is desperate to tell her his story, and she admits that she is curious
to hear it.
His uncle sent him away. A flashback shows him
working as an accountant in his uncle's store, upstairs from the actual shop.
He sees a beautiful girl, Luisa, in the window across from his
office's balcony and immediately falls in love with her.
He asks a friend to introduce him to them in a literary circle named after
Eca de Queiros.
Meanwhile, his uncle mentions over dinner that someone has been
Macario attends the intellectual party at the palace of a wealthy and retired
notary: music by Debussy, poetry by Pessoa.
His uncle forbids Macario to get married, without offering any reason.
Since Macario is determined to get married anyway, his uncle fires him.
Being poor, Macario desperately looks for a new job, which is not easy to
achieve because most traders respect his uncle's decision, while Luisa notices
that a new accountant is sitting at his office across her window.
Macario tells Luisa that he needs some time to get a job before he can marry her.
Macario meditates by the port and a stranger asks him about a hat he has lost:
Macario walks away without answering.
Macario returns to his uncle, begging to get his job back. His uncle repeats
the same condition: he wants him to remain single.
Macario leaves for Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa, where he got
offered a lucrative position.
He returns with money and asks for Luisa's hand. At the same time a friend
asks him to sign as guarantor for a new hardware store... and then runs away
with another man's wife. Macario loses all his money.
The same company offers him another stint in Cape Verde, but this time
his uncle forgives him and makes him a partner in the company.
Macario can finally marry Luisa.
The couple goes shopping in the city's most elegant jewelry.
While he is ordering earrings, Luisa steals a diamond ring,
and he understands that she is a compulsive shoplifter, presumably the one
who was stealing from his uncle's store.
Macario pays the bill but then outside he breaks up with Luisa.
O Estranho Caso de Angelica/ The Strange Case of Angelica (2010),
one of his most accessible films, that allows multiple interpretations,
a fable of amour fou that could belong to E.T.A. Hoffmann's tales
perhaps a conservative's reply to Almodovar's Talk to Her (2002).
But this sounds more like the autopsy of a madness than a mystical parable.
The least sympathetic to the protagonist's romantic endeavor are his landlady and Angelica's maid, two pragmantic and unsentimental women who stand at the opposite end of
the spectrum from his hallucinated mind.
Didn't we know that this film was made by a 100-year old man, we would guess
it was made by an ambitious novice.
One rainy night a young man arrives in town looking for a room.
He is taken to Justina's respectable boardinghouse. He is a photographer
and he is a Jew. One evening as he is trying to fix a noisy piece of electronic
equipment, the landlady announces that an important family needs a photographer.
As he leaves the house, we see the landlady watching the scene from the window
with an almost sinister expression.
He is driven to the mansion of the family, where he is welcome by a nun,
the sister of the deceased Angelica, and by her brother Antonio.
Angelica had recently married and the husband is devastated.
The photographer begins taking pictures of the dead woman, who is dressed in
white like a bride, and suddenly he sees her smiling, but only when he looks
at her through the camera's viewfinder.
Even at home when he develops the pictures she smiles again,
but he is distracted by trucks driving by under his balcony.
He also likes to photograph peasants at work in a vineyard, despite the
protestations of his landlady who thinks that this is an old-fashioned system
largely abandoned even in that backwards province.
The photographer attends the funeral of Angelica but leaves before mass begins.
He delivers the photos to the maid, who does not let him into the house.
Angelica appears to him in a dream: they embrace and she lifts him in the sky
and they fly over the world, and he even picks a flower for her.
Waking up, he wonders whether this is insanity or a revelation of
a higher dimension. During a lengthy dinner scene, the other lodgers
gossip that he is weird. Then they discuss
the economic crisis and pollution, and finally matter and antimatter.
He is standing up and not looking at them, and they don't look at him, as if he were not in the room. He is listening carefully when they discuss that
matter is energy, i.e. spirit... and he mumbles the word "Angelica"...
Justina is worried that he works too much,
that he doesn't eat and doesn't sleep,
but he replies that he is just fine.
He is not: he keeps having nightmares, obsessed by the photos of the angelic
aristocratic Angelica mixed with photos of the brute peasants, and keeps sensing
her presence on his balcony.
The family summons him to the mansion and Angelica's mother orders copies
and enlargements of the photos that he has taken. He leaves the house in
a trance and, alone at the gate, shouts "Angelica!".
That night he dreams that she is hovering over his bed, he tries in vain to
grab her hand, and wakes up shouting her name again.
The landlady discovers that her beloved bird is dead, and mutters that a curse
is hauting the house. When she tells Isaac of the bird's death, he rushes out
like a maniac past the church shouting "Angelica" until he collapses among
trees. A group of children finds him, lying still as if dead.
He is transported to Justina's place, where he lies comatose on his bed,
examined by a doctor. Suddenly he gets up, knocks the doctor down, and walks
towards the balcony where Angelica has appeared. He then splits in two, one
body collapsing dead to the floor and the other one soaring in the sky with
Justina covers his body with a white sheet and closes the window.
Outside the peasants are singing in the fields.
O Gebo e a Sombra/ Gebo and the Shadow (2012) is a minimalist
adaptation of Raul Brandao's play, mostly set in a single claustrophobic room.
Manoel de Oliveira died in 2015 at the age of 106.
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