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Manoel de Oliveira Movies: Centenarian Portuguese Filmmaker Retrospective

Manoel de OliveiraDennis Lim in the New York Times:

“When referring to the Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, it is now – and has been for some time – customary to affix the phrase ‘world’s oldest active filmmaker.’ The operative word is ‘active.’ Mr. Oliveira, who turns 100 in December, has made at least one movie a year since 1990 (when he was 82). His late-career surge, a gratifyingly long goodbye, defies preconceptions of what an artist’s twilight period should be. Mr. Oliveira’s undaunted productivity is remarkable, as is the undimmed creative vigor of his films.

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

“The cultural critic Edward Said, in his writings on ‘late style,’ identified two versions of ‘artistic lateness.’ One produces crowning glories, models of ‘harmony and resolution’ in which a lifetime of knowledge and mastery are serenely evident. The other is an altogether more restless sensibility, the province of artists who go anything but gently into that good night, turning out works of ‘intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction.’

“Mr. Oliveira, force of nature that he is, represents both kinds of lateness, often in a single film. In this, as in so many other respects, he is his own special case. What are we to make of an artist who hit his stride in his 70s, and for whom ‘late style’ is in effect the primary style?”


The film series “The Talking Pictures of Manoel de Oliveira” will run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Cinématek from March 7–30. Following the March 7 screening of the documentary Christopher Columbus, The Enigma, Manoel de Oliveira will be in attendance for a Q&A moderated by João Bénard da Costa, president of Cinemateca Portuguesa.

From the BAMcinématek website:

Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, born in 1908 and celebrating his centennial this year, is famed as the oldest working filmmaker in the world. But consider this: since 1990, Oliveira has made a film per year, only increasing his productivity and creativity as he gets older. Oliveira delivers sublimely crafted works rooted in the European literary tradition of Goethe, Flaubert, and Ionesco, along with adaptations of Portuguese writers, while using his self-reflexive style to challenge the nature of cinema itself. Grandly defying the idea that movies should be less talky and more visual, Oliveira removes the flash and melodrama from his work to focus on words and the ideas they convey. We’re proud to celebrate Oliveira’s centennial with this retrospective, ranging from his earliest documentary works to his most recent triumphs – many in new prints. Organized by BAMcinématek with the collaboration of Antonio Pedroso, this retrospective will tour North America later this year. All films directed by Manoel de Oliveira [are] in Portuguese with English subtitles unless otherwise noted.

Support for The Talking Pictures of Manoel de Oliveira is provided by Instituto Camões Portugal.

Aniki Bóbó (1942) 70 min.
Fri, Mar 7 at 4:30, 9:30 p.m.
Oliveira’s first feature, made during the censorship of Portugal’s strict Estada [sic] Novo period, shows the beginnings of his constant intellectual probing. In this remarkably enjoyable tale of three children’s lives in Porto, a conflict of adolescent romance and jealousy emerges. Shot almost entirely on location, the film seamlessly combines neo-realism with a heightened sense of fantasy that puts the film entirely in the children’s perspective.

“Much simpler in style and more approachable than many of De Oliveira’s later films, it has excellent location photography and natural performances from the kids.” – Channel 4 Film

Christopher Columbus, The Enigma (Cristóvão Colombo – O Enigma) (2007) 70min
Fri, Mar 7 at 7pm*
*Q&A with Manoel de Oliveira moderated by João Bénard da Costa, president of Cinemateca Potuguesa
With Ricardo Trepa, Leonor Baldaque
Oliveira recreates the real-life search of Manuel Luciano da Silva and his wife Silvia to prove that Christopher Columbus was actually Portuguese-born. This exploration of ancestry and obsession spans Europe and America from the 1940s to present-day. In an act of sympathy with the da Silvas, Oliveira even casts himself and his wife as the older version of the couple, cheekily tying the past to the present.

“…part literary adaptation, part scholarly romance, part impish exercise in avant-garde nationalism, and altogether enchanting.” – The Village Voice

The Past and the Present (O Passado e o Presente) (1971) 117min
Sat, Mar 8 at 6:50, 9:30pm
With Maria de Saisset, Manuela de Freitas
From 1971-1981, Oliveira cemented his reputation with four films known as the “Tetralogy of Frustrated Love,” as each film deals obsessively with unrealized or unfulfilled romances. The Past the Present, Oliveira’s third feature, first reveals the director’s love of theatricality and the primacy of the spoken word; the story revolves around a remarried widow who only loves her husbands after they are dead.

Benilde or the Virgin Mother (Benilde ou a Virgem Mãe) (1975) 106min
Sun, Mar 9 at 6:50, 9:15pm
With Maria Amélia Matta, Jorge Rolla
A story of possibly immaculate birth, as a pregnant young woman declares that she has never been with a man, throwing her marriage plans into chaos. Benilde is where Oliveira began to develop his signature style, as it flaunts its artifice and strictly emphasizes the text of José Régio’s play. With the film’s opening shot, a camera traveling through a soundstage to arrive at the set for the first scene, Oliveira renounces traditional cinema for good.

“With creamy whites plus richly saturated technicolor, with stormy shadows and leaves swirling, De Oliveira recalls Douglas Sirk’s melodramas…[while] the miracle question suggests both Dreyer’s Ordet and Rossellini’s Il Miracolo (and nudges at Pasolini’s Teorema), but De Oliveira nimbly steps aside just far enough to avoid being pinned down.” – Bright Lights Film Journal

Rite of Spring (Acto de Primavera) (1963) 90min
Thu, Mar 13 at 6:50, 9:15pm
With Nicolau Nunes Da Silva, Ermelinda Pires
Oliveira’s second feature is an interesting mix of documentary, fiction, and experimental narrative as he explores a local town’s passion play. Though staged by Oliveira for the cameras, the town’s annual production is real, resulting in a film of real people acting for the camera, interspersed with scenes of everyday life and experimental montage (including an anti-war sentiment during the crucifixion).

“…midway through the filming, Oliveira found his point of view shifting from a sociological detachment to an immediate involvement with the fiction under performance, a shift that would produce the remarkable combination of theatrical ritual and documentary-like distance of his late features.” – Chicago Reader

The Cannibals (Os Canibais) (1988) 99min
Fri, Mar 14 at 2, 4:30, 6:50, 9:15pm
With Luís Miguel Cintra, Leonor Silveira, Diogo Dróia
The Cannibals is Oliveira’s most abstract, pointed, and scathingly hilarious film. Using a violinist/narrator who addresses the audience directly, Oliveira shoots this dissection of upper-class values as an opera, complete with mechanical limbs falling off, musical interludes, and yes, the cannibalism that the title promises. The last ten minutes are an uproarious spectacle that would make even Buñuel envious.

Doomed Love (Amor de Perdição) (1978) 262min
Sat, Mar 15 at 6:15pm
With António Sequeira Lope, Cristina Hauser
Inititally made for Portuguese TV, Doomed Love was a ratings failure until its theatrical release allowed audiences to appreciate the details of Oliveira’s mise-en-scene and narration on the big screen. Since then, this tale of lovers kept apart by their families in 19th century high society has taken its place as one of the masterpieces of 1970s European cinema.

“a striking, eccentric film that finds its meaning in the rupture between a 20th-century medium and an antique rhetoric, measuring the passage of time through the modulations of human thought.” – Chicago Reader

Francisca (1981) 166min
Sun, Mar 16 at 3, 7pm
With Teresa Menezes, Diogo Dória
Based on true events, Francisca tells the story of a wealthy but bored young man who woos a virtuous young woman to his country estate, but then virtually abandons her. The final film in Oliveira’s “Tetralogy of Frustrated Love,” Francisca is a dream-like work that pushes Oliveira’s concept of theatricality in cinema as far as it can go without actually breaking through the fourth wall.

“Using a series of tableaux to illustrate the pre-industrial setting and pace of life, so different from today’s, Oliveira sets the scene for the main protagonists to act out their individual dramas.” – Channel 4 Film

Oliveira Shorts Program 91min
Wed, Mar 19 at 6:50, 9:15pm
This collection of short films all date prior to Oliveira’s modern period. They offer fascinating glimpses of the master filmmaker grappling with his own personal style, including the expressionistic The Painter and the City (Pintor e a cidade) (1956), the social documentary O Pão (1959), the political allegory The Hunt (A Caça) (1963), and his early masterpiece – the abstract, urban tone-poem Working on the River Douro (Douro, Fauna Fluvial) (1931).

‘Non’, or the Vain Glory of Command (‘Non’, ou A Vã Glróia de Mandar) (1990) 111min
Thu, Mar 20 at 4:30, 6:50, 9:15pm
With Luís Miguel Cintra, Diogo Dória
This epic film recounts some of Portugal’s most famous military defeats, while examining the travels of a group of soldiers through Angola during the colonial wars in Africa. The meticulous recreation of battles both historical and mythical is a wonder to behold as Oliveira celebrates Portugal’s legacy of discovery while condemning the country’s colonial history. In Portuguese and Spanish with English subtitles.

The Divine Comedy (A Divina Comédia) (1991) 140min
Fri, Mar 21 at 3, 6, 9pm
With Maria de Medeiros, Leonor Silveira
Instead of offering a take on Dante, Oliveira tackles the whole of Western civilization by focusing on a group of mental patients in a palatial asylum. Each assumes themselves to be a figure from a literary work (or sometimes more than one), and as the scenes unfold, Adam and Eve meet figures from Fyodor Dostoevsky while Nietzsche looks on.

The Convent (O Convento) (1995) 93min
Sat, Mar 22 at 6:50, 9:15pm
With Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich
The Convent starts with Malkovich and wife Deneuve investigating his idea that Shakespeare was actually Spanish-born. From there, the movie evolves into a metaphysical exploration of good and evil, featuring elements of Catholicism and Faust. This eerie, mythic film marks the first pairing of Oliveira with Malkovich, who would work together again on several films.

Abraham’s Valley (Vale Abraão) (1993) 203min
Sun, Mar 23 at 4, 8pm
With Leonor Silveira
Leonor Silveira, one of Oliveira’s most frequent on-screen muses, is radiant in this reinterpretation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Silveira plays a beautiful young woman who marries to please her family but not for love. She eventually takes a lover, much to her husband’s chagrin. The combination of voice-over narration and Oliveira’s black sense of humor make this a sensuous, lyrical treat.

“Not since Diary of a Country Priest, and maybe François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, has narration been used for such curious and exhilarating effect.” – The New York Times

Day of Despair (O Dia do Desespero) (1992) 75min
Thu, Mar 27 at 7:30, 9:15pm
With Mário Barroso, Tteresa Madruga
Oliveira dramatizes the last days of Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco (who wrote the book that Doomed Love was based on), but with plenty of postmodern asides (such as when Barroso, playing Branco, introduces himself to the audience). The story concerns the writer going blind and being driven to suicide through ghostly, otherworldly means.

The Uncertainty Principle (O Princípio da Incerteza) (2002) 132min
Fri, Mar 28 at 3, 6, 9pm
With Leonor Baldaque, Leonor Silveira
Using his stock company of actors and collaborators, Oliveira returns to the artifice of his earlier works. On a country estate, the saintly Camila (Baldaque) marries the wealthy Antonio, but the madam of a local brothel (Silveira) soon causes everyone to rethink their relationships in this witty existential commentary.

“…it’s almost impossible to fully process on one viewing… As usual [Oliveira] plays fascinating games with structure, toying with our expectations.” – Senses of Cinema

I’m Going Home (Je Rentre a la maison) (2001) 90min
Sat, Mar 29 at 2, 6:50pm
With Michel Piccoli, Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich
One of his simplest films and a surprise hit both in Europe and America, I’m Going Home is an exquisite meditation on age, loss, and the simple joys of life. Piccoli plays an aging actor whose family is killed in an accident, leaving only his grandson. As time passes and a new role is offered in a film version of Joyce’s Ulysses (by film director Malkovich), it becomes clear that he has not dealt with his grief.

“A surprising work from the Portuguese master of stylization, much more realistic, rather like late Claude Sautet, this extremely well written and impeccably shot study of an elderly actor (Michel Piccoli) who must cope with the accidental deaths of his wife, daughter, and son-in-law has an equilibrium steeped in elderly wisdom.” – Film Comment

Voyage to the Beginning of the World (Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo) (1997) 95min
Sat, Mar 29 at 4:30, 9:15pm
With Marcello Mastroianni, Jean-Yves Gautier
A troupe of actors, led by Gautier, and an elderly director (Mastroianni) travel to Portugal to visit the land of Gautier’s birth. In this sublime take on aging and the road movie, Oliveira himself appears as the driver, often seen with his onscreen alter ego. This was also the magnificent Mastroianni’s final role.

“[A]n exquisitely sad and moving reflection on memory and personal roots.” – The New York Times

The Letter (La Lettre) (1999) 107min
Sun, Mar 30 at 2, 6:50pm
With Chiara Mastroianni, Pedro Abrunhosa, Leonor Silveira
One of Oliveira’s rare works set in contemporary times, The Letter updates Madame de Lafayette’s novel The Princess of Cléves to the present day, thereby juxtaposing 17th century morals with a 20th century setting. The tale of a young married woman who falls in love (with real-life Portuguese rock star Abrunhosa) but refuses to act, even after her husband’s death, makes us reconsider our own sense of morality.

“[a] raw spiritual allegory of the war between the flesh and spirit.” – The New York Times

Inquietude (1998) 110min
Sun, Mar 30 at 4:30, 9:15pm
With Leonor Baldaque, Leonor Silveira

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