srijeda, 24. listopada 2012.

Manoel de Oliveira - Satenska cipelica (1985)

Sedmosatno remekdjelo na YouTubeu. U tematskom smislu dosadan film (prema Claudelovoj drami) ali na hipnotičan način, no opća kazališna artificijelnost je predivna.

Prolific Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira has cut down the 7-hour stage play of Catholic playwright Paul Claudel to just under three hours in this film. Within those three hours, two people — Dona Prouheze (Anne Consigny) and Don Rodigue (Luis Miguel Cintra) have fallen in love but are honor-bound to renounce their passion for a greater love of God. Dona Prouheze is particularly devout and has offered her satin slipper to the Virgin Mary in exchange for the Virgin’s protection against sin. She dies as virginal as when she was born, while Don Rodrigue conquers Asian lands for king and country. As his life progresses, he becomes more and more devoted to painting religious subjects on his ship, rebuffing the royal attempts to get him back into active duty. Slow and possibly tedious for some audiences, this film was originally created as a four-part miniseries for television. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, All Movie Guide

The Satin Slipper

Le soulier de satin | Manoel de Oliveira 1985

Manoel de Oliveira’s epic rendering of playwright Paul Claudel’s verse masterwork opens with a quote: “Everything happens for the glory of God, even sin.” Set during Spain’s “Golden Age,” the story then begins as Doña Prouhèze, the wife of a Spanish nobleman, falls in love with Don Rodrigo; Rodrigo is sent to be the Governor of New Spain in America, while Prouhèze becomes the ruler of Mogador in Africa. Yet despite their separation by oceans or continents, their love—of course totally forbidden, and thus impossible—continues to grow, sweeping up all those around them as well as the Spanish Empire in its wake. As always, Oliveira is a master at creating a sense of period and place from the most minimal of details, a talent well on display in a story of unrequited lovers that unfolds across several decades on four continents, the lovers’ separation only increasing the intensity of their feeling.

A Murderer Cannot Avoid Death: Thoughts on Manoel de Oliveira’s Gebo and the Shadow

In an interview published in the Venice film festival press kit, Manoel de Oliveira tells the story of how he came to adapt the theatre play Gebo and the Shadow. A friend asked Oliveira why he hadn’t made a film about poverty during the current time of economic crisis. Oliveira replied that such a movie would be difficult to make, unless it was a documentary. Despite this difficulty, the idea of a film about the crisis had not vanished entirely from his mind, and it was then that Oliveira remembered the four-act play written in 1923 by Raul Brandão (1867-1930), an outstanding playwright born in Porto, whose work is virtually unknown outside of his home country. Brandão is a rare case in Portuguese literature: influenced by the decadent symbolism of the late 19th century, his writing is littered with nightmares and cursed, hideous creatures, mixing evolutionism, mysticism, anarchism, and Christian-prophetic messianism with a poetic intuition that tends to hallucination. His characters often appear charged with dreams and woes, and testify to literary reminiscences that come from Brandão’s readings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
It should be added that if Oliveira’s friend’s remark was intended as a provocation, it was not an entirely fair one. Although most of Oliveira’s work tends to portray the privileged classes, Oliveira entered the cinema more than 80 years ago by filming poor, working-class men in Douro, Faina Fluvial (1931), which was certainly the documentary that Oliveira had in mind when he was talking to his friend; likewise, downtrodden Porto children were the subjects of Aniki Bóbó (1942), his first feature. Oliveira returned to the life of the poor when he was reborn as a filmmaker in Rite of Spring (1962), an adaptation of a popular Passion play filmed in northern Portugal, as well the extraordinary short film A Caça (1963). The Box (1994), another adaptation (of a play written by Prista Monteiro), focused on the alms box of a blind man (Luís Miguel Cintra) who lives in a poor Lisbon neighbourhood; this film, a caustic operetta about charity, recalls in a certain way the characters of Gebo and the Shadow. (One of Oliveira’s regular collaborators, Cintra was responsible for the staging of Black Spring, an extraordinary play based on texts by Brandão, presented by Lisbon’s Teatro da Cornucópia in 1993.) And how does one not think about money when poverty knocks on the door of Macário, the accountant played by the director’s grandson, Ricardo Trêpa, in Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009)? The character of Gebo, also an accountant, could, in fact, be an older Macário, the same who pushes away his blonde fiancée in Eccentricities when he discovers that she has a compulsion for thievery. The same Gebo that, at the end of this new film, will assume responsibility for a theft that he has not committed, following the line of the overwhelming anguish of Brandão’s prose.
Inspired by a deep pessimism that has its roots in Nietzsche and close to the theme of Dostoevsky’s 1861 novel Humiliated and Insulted, Gebo and the Shadow flees the model of the naturalistic theatre of its time and is a shining example of the Portuguese drama of the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps due to its darkness, today it is almost a forgotten play, having not been staged anywhere in Portugal for more than 30 years.
But Oliveira, a Brandão reader who had never before adapted a work by his fellow countryman, had a good memory of it. The play unfolds in a single, mournful room of an old house, so cramped and suffused in disgrace that one could say there’s no vanishing point, nor any God to provide help. Oliveira respects Brandão’s minimalist theatricality, creating a clear picture of the human condition, its absurdity, and its passion for suffering. This is a theme dear to Oliveira, particularly in one of his most intense movies, Benilde, or the Virgin Mother (1975), with which Gebo and the Shadow, both in its theatrical origins and the darkness of its text, establishes an intimate correspondence.
Gebo (Michael Lonsdale) is an aged, decent and broke family man subdued by routine and a sense of duty who has learned from life that “when money’s involved, no one ever forgives.” He lives with his wife Doroteia (Claudia Cardinale), a woman who does not accept reality, pushing upon Gebo and their daughter-in-law Sofia (Leonor Silveira) an endless pack of lies about their missing son, João (Ricardo Trêpa, speaking in a disarming French accent that draws attention to his character’s dubious nature). Gebo often receives his faithful neighbours Chamiço and Candidinha (Luís Miguel Cintra and Jeanne Moreau): their favourite sport is complaining, which nicely complements Gebo’s perpetual sense of hopelessness. A man without ambition, Gebo often laments: “The question is whether we come to this world to be happy.” In fact, happiness here is a temptation and a sordid object in the house: a bag full of money collected from the company where Gebo works.
The shadow of the title, on the other hand, seems to be a far more complex issue. Because first of all in the film, brilliantly shot by Renato Berta in HD on a studio set, faint oil lamps are always flickering, and there is no distinction between day and night. This is a perennially dark world where there is almost no light to reflect any shadows at all: we could dare to say that colours and image here have a pictorial sense and a distinctive purpose. Secondly, because in the texts of Brandão, the shadow is a suffocating thought, commenting on the Portuguese soul and despair from the perspective of the myth of Sebastianism, a topic addressed by Oliveira in both No, or the Vainglory of Command (1990) and The Fifth Empire (2004). For a director who once said that the truth and the event are the two greatest vectors of his work, this historical approach is not an abuse of our imagination: “Today is a product of yesterday,” as Oliveira once said.
But that shadow becomes even more mysterious if we just observe the characters we have before us. João, Gebo’s prodigal son, left home eight years earlier, much to the despair of his mother Doroteia, who does not know that he became an outlaw. Maybe the shadow is that amoral and disgraced son who comes back to humiliate these characters, mired in poverty, and exacerbate their misery by stealing the company money that his accountant father has in his possession. Rather, João might appear in the scenario to signify that Gebo, a man who has tried to be honest all his life, can only end his days pathetically, by confessing to a theft that he did not commit.
However, we should remember that, basically, we have been inside of a ghost story since the beginning. We saw a ghost just after the opening credits, in the shot where we see João for the first time; it’s the only one recorded outside of the Parisian studio where the rest of the film was made. A young man, who we will only later discover is João, is grabbed by two hands that come for him literally out of the dark, prompting him to shout: “It wasn’t me!” Is this scene real, or a dream (or a nightmare) of Gebo’s? Just as we’re unsure whether João really exists, likewise it’s an illusion that there is honour in being poor—João’s theft ultimately destroys that ideal, violently.
When sunlight finally penetrates the house, followed by the shot of a paralytic Gebo that ends the film, the idea that João might be nothing but the shadow of his own father seems to gain a new, tragic credibility. In the fourth act of Brandão’s play, the father returns home transformed and converted to the world of crime after serving time in jail. Oliveira avoided that tragic conclusion, as he halts the film at the end of the third act—which means that he managed to keep the ghosts hidden in their shadows. Perhaps that’s why the long-awaited João arrives home with an insane, grotesque laugh, saying that he’s cursed when night falls; he’s projecting the secret desire of Gebo to become the thief he doesn’t have the courage to be.
In the recent modest but delightful documentary short 101 directed by Luis Miñarro, the Spanish co-producer of The Strange Case of Angelica (2011), some quotes by Oliveira are overlaid onscreen texts in the film. In one of them, Oliveira says: “The act of filming, the act of photographing, is in itself violent. Just as a murderer cannot avoid death, the director cannot avoid filming.” I don’t know exactly when and why Oliveira said that (Miñarro does not reveal the source) but the sentence impressed me a great deal, especially Oliveira’s use of the word “death”; it came to mind when I saw Gebo and the Shadow for the first time. If Gebo and the Shadow is a film about death and despair, it is no less violent in its form. The mystery of Gebo and the Shadow emerges somehow from this violence, pushing Oliveira’s concept of cinema even further, and leading to one of his most radical films ever.
Oliveira could not concentrate so much suffering, anguish, and harm in a single movie if he did not have an absolute trust in his actors, a remarkable cast of established veterans (including Lonsdale, Cardinale, and Moreau) who made the director adapt the Portuguese piece into French. We can feel in the movie how tense this shooting must have been and how much Oliveira invested in his art: every shot (some of them more than 15 minutes long) is a tour de force of precision that leans toward pure hallucination. This cinematic effect, faithful to the verbal power of Brandão, creates a fatal attraction for those who accept the invitation to play Oliveira’s game. At the Viennale, while she was presenting the movie, Leonor Silveira confirmed that tension when she revealed that Oliveira, now taking advantage of HD, thought about shooting the film in one long take, an idea that was strongly discouraged by his producers.
Still, Oliveira staged Gebo and the Shadow on a claustrophobic set with most shots involving six actors sitting around a table, and, as always, a tightly fixed camera. He starts from the codes of what once was called “filmed theatre,” a phrase that has been used superficially by some critics to characterize his work since Doomed Love (1978). But even in its most noble sense, the notion of filmed theatre seems completely inadequate for Oliveira, and definitely for any analysis of this film. Gebo and the Shadow, either in its options of mise en scène or in the direction of its actors, may be haunted by theatre, but it knows how to play with its masks and keep them hidden. Is Gebo and the Shadow filmed theatre? Why not talk instead of a purely cinematic antechamber of death where the ghost of reality actually fakes the truth? Oliveira is a man of doubt. Once again, he prefers to stand before the great enigmas of the human soul and avoid all judgments, because one can never judge destiny. And it is destiny that the cinema of Oliveira is all about. 

Against the Grain: On the Cinematic Vision of Manoel de Oliveira

O Dia de Desespero
The career of Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira (b. 1908) now spans more than 70 years. Oliveira made his first film, the short Douro, Faina Fluvial, in 1931, and his first feature, Aniki-Bobó, in 1942. He filmed sporadically until the 1970s, when, already in his 60s, he garnered recognition abroad and his output became more regular. Since 1990 he has made at least one film per year. In December 2002, when he released O Princípio da Incerteza (The Principle of Uncertainty), Oliveira celebrated his 94th birthday. In 2003 he will release yet another feature film, tentatively titled Filme Falado (Spoken Film) and starring Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich. This almost certainly makes Oliveira the oldest active filmmaker in the world today.
While he has long been highly respected in Europe – particularly in France and Italy – Oliveira’s recognition in the United States has been more hesitant. These differing reactions may well stem from precisely the same aspects of Oliveira’s work, which is characterised by a rather iconoclastic reflective and self-reflexive cinematic discourse that consistently goes against the grain of mainstream commercial cinema. His films are often considerably longer than the norm – almost seven hours, in the case of Le Soulier de Satin (The Satin Slipper, 1985) – and his camera is frequently static. By Hollywood standards, his films may seem slow, theatrical, or excessively talky. His themes, which range from frustrated love to questions of nationhood, from configurations of evil to divine grace, from remembrance and old age to relations between art and life, also align his work with certain more philosophical tendencies of European cinema rather than with standard American fare.
Oliveira’s work represents, perhaps paradigmatically, the art-versus-money divide that has long characterised filmmaking in diverse national contexts. Almost from the beginning of his career Oliveira has expressed opposition to conventional forms of cinematic expression driven by commercial imperatives. In 1933 he published a short text titled “O Cinema e o Capital” (“Cinema and Capital”) in which he argues that the commercial organisation of American cinema has smothered and subjugated the artist. Rather than bend to commercial demands, he has followed his own artistic vision. The same goes for other heteronomous demands (1). When, for example, he released Benilde ou a Virgem-Mãe (Benilde or the Virgin-Mother) shortly before the 1974 Portuguese revolution, the film was accused of having nothing to do with the country’s contemporaneous socio-political reality. Oliveira’s response was simply that the film was set in the 1930s, not the 1970s.
Critics sometimes divide Oliveira’s work into two phases: an early documentary phase that goes from Douro, Faina Fluvial to Acto da Primavera (Act of Spring, 1962), and a later phase with a primary spotlight on fiction. In reality such a view is simplistic. Oliveira has made documentaries throughout his career (see filmography), so there is no clear divide between the two modes of filmmaking. Beyond that, fiction and documentary are intertwined in many of his films, and this has to do with Oliveira’s concept of cinematic expression. In this brief essay, which does not pretend to be exhaustive, I will discuss the development of certain formal aspects of Oliveira’s concept of cinema from an early concern with cinematic specificity to a hybrid discourse that posits a very tenuous line between film and theatre on the one hand, and between fiction and documentary on the other. The shift in his concept of cinematic discourse takes place to a large extent through his dialogue with literary and theatrical texts and performances, starting primarily with his filming, in Acto da Primavera, of a popular religious drama.
Of Oliveira’s 22 features, 18 are based on or directly inspired by literary works. Of these, seven derive from works of drama, and 11 from diverse kinds of narrative, ranging from novels and short stories to sermons and the Bible (2). Oliveira is most closely associated with three Portuguese writers – Camilo Castelo Branco (1862–1890), José Régio (1899–1969), and Agustina Bessa-Luís (1922–) – but his filmography also includes versions of works by Paul Claudel, Mme. de Lafayette, the Jesuit priest António Vieira, and Samuel Beckett, among others. All of his films, however, include significant literary references and allusions. The screenplay of A Divina Comédia (The Divine Comedy, 1991), for example, includes passages from the Bible, José Régio, Dostoyevsky, and Nietzsche, although it is not an adaptation of any of these (and much less of Dante). Je rentre à la maison (I’m Going Home, 2000) includes a staging of a scene from Ionesco’s Le roi se meurt (“Exit the King”), another from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and a fictitious filming of Joyce’s Ulysses. While such references may occupy less space or be more understated in other films, they permeate his entire body of work. To fully understand Oliveira, therefore, it would be necessary to consider both his position in the Portuguese and European fields of cinematic production as well as his relations to the literary field, for they shape the very concept of cinema that Oliveira has developed throughout his career.
Douro, Faina Fluvial
Oliveira’s first film, the 21-minute Douro, Faina Fluvial (“Labor on the Douro”), made at the moment of transition between silent and sound cinema, deals with diverse work-related activities taking place in and alongside the Douro River in Oliveira’s native city Porto, in northern Portugal. Douro is not, however, a traditional documentary about the river and the city – it is much closer to the work of Walter Ruttmann, Dziga Vertov and the early Joris Ivens. Antoine de Baecque characterises the film as a “visual symphony”, and José de Matos-Cruz has referred to it as a “geographical mosaic” in which the director brings together a multiplicity of images – often shot from strikingly unusual angles or reflected in the water – of people, boats, trains, barges, bridges, houses, alleyways, ships, light and shadows, crashing waves, objects blowing in the wind and, above all, the river (de Baecque and Parsi, 12; Matos-Cruz 1996, 73).
According to the director, Douro was inspired by an image he had seen in another film: the taut chain of an anchored boat resisting the strong currents of a river. The image’s power and beauty reminded him of the banks of the Douro, with its intense activity of boats arriving and departing, loading and unloading merchandise (“Manoel de Oliveira: Entrevista,” 67). Oliveira apparently had little interest in documentary until he saw Ruttmann’s Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, 1927), which he has referred to as “the most useful lesson in film technique” that he had ever seen. At the same time, he found Ruttmann’s film rather cold and mechanical, lacking in a humanity that later films by the German director possessed. It was the humanity that existed along the Douro that Oliveira was interested in revealing (68; de Baecque and Parsi, 95).
In an extensive interview granted to Antoine de Baecque and Jacques Parsi, Manoel de Oliveira refers to Douro as an experiment with cinematic specificity, the multiplicity of perspectives, and with the montage theories that were circulating at the time (96). The film is an exercise in light, shadows, rhythm, and changing camera-angles, evoking the urban transformations provoked by the inexorable process of modernisation. The key dramatic sequence, in which an ox-cart knocks a man down, is provoked when the driver of a car, distracted by an airplane flying overhead, backs into the cart, causing the ox to panic. This sequence, one of several fictional moments in the documentary, offers an early indication of the kind of cinematic hybridity that would later characterise much of Oliveira’s work.
During the next 30 years, Manoel de Oliveira made only one feature-length film, Aniki-Bobó (1942) based loosely on João Rodrigues de Freitas’s poem “Meninos Milionários”. His production was otherwise limited to documentaries on a number of different topics: the opening of an electrical generating plant; the production of automobiles in Portuguese; the process of making bread; the painting of António Cruz set against the backdrop of the city of Porto; a small town, Famalicão, in northern Portugal. During the period, he also wrote a number of screenplays for which he was unable to obtain production financing (3).
After three decades of sporadic cinematic activity, Oliveira returned to the centre of Portugal’s film scene in the 1960s with Acto da Primavera (filmed in 1961–62, released in 1963), a film that marks a significant change in the director’s trajectory and that initiates some of the cinematic strategies that he would develop more fully in later films. In Acto da Primavera, Oliveira films a version of a popular representation, enacted by members of a rural community in northern Portugal, of the Passion of Christ, derived from the 16th-century Auto da Paixão, by Francisco Vaz de Guimarães. Oliveira had come across the drama in the small town of Curalha when he was looking for locations for his 1959 documentary, O Pão (Bread), and he was so taken by it that he wanted to return and register it on film.
Acto da Primavera
Acto is a remarkable film in a number of ways. Oliveira did not simply record the popular drama as it took place, but rather re-enacted it in the same locale and with the same non-professional actors as its “real” representation. In this sense it is a re-presentation of a representation. But it goes far beyond that. The film offers scenes of the townspeople/actors preparing for their roles, shots of flyers announcing the spectacle, and other aspects of the town’s daily life. It also inserts additional fictional elements into the narrative, as when a family of middle-class tourists stops by to gawk condescendingly at the rural people engaged in their religious re-enactment. Oliveira also turns the camera on himself and his small crew as they prepare to film. Acto is neither fiction nor documentary; rather, it is both at the same time. As critic José Manuel Costa has written, the film’s “modernity is not in the creation of a space between ‘documentary’ and ‘fiction’ – as was to a certain extent the case of [Jean] Rouch’s ‘improvised’ or ‘spontaneous’ fictions – but rather in the exact opposite: the deliberate choice of the extremes of these two areas, constructing its essence in the juxtaposition of two irreducible zones…” (204).
The fictional and the documentary do not simply intertwine, as they do to a limited extent in Douro, Faina Fluvial, they are juxtaposed. By the same token, Acto offers a juxtaposition of cinematic and theatrical forms of representation. José Manuel Costa notes that, after sequences in the town, a surprising shift in which Jesus appears to a Samaritan, a return to the local setting, and the gathering of the spectators, which leads one to believe that the spectacle is about to begin, the film cuts not to a stage, but rather to Oliveira and his camera, “the object that will create the second fictitious space, which is a cinematic space” (204). The focus here – without getting into the important religious or political issues that the film explores – is simultaneously on the represented and the representation, the signified and the signifier. This self-reflexive concern with modes of representation constitutes a major strand in Oliveira’s oeuvre and a central element in his concept of the cinema.
After a nine-year hiatus during which he made several shorts and documentaries, Oliveira released his third feature, O Passado e o Presente (The Past and the Present, 1971), based on a play by Vicente Sanches. With it he initiated what would come to be called his “tetralogy of frustrated love”, comprising, in addition to the 1971 film, Benilde ou a Virgem-Mãe (1974), based on a 1947 play by José Régio, Amor de Perdição (Doomed Love, 1978), drawn from Camilo Castelo Branco’s homonymous 1862 romantic novel, and Francisca (1981), an adaptation of Agustina Bessa-Luís’s novel Fanny Owen (1979). It is with this tetralogy – and particularly its last two films – that Oliveira began to develop his concept of cinema with greater force, a concept that would reach its paroxysm in his filming of Claudel’s Le Soulier de Satin in 1985.
The fact that these films are all based on literary works is not gratuitous, for Oliveira’s cinematic practice derives to at least some degree from his dialogue with different forms of literature. Oliveira fully understands the expressive potentialities and limitations of the two forms of artistic expression. He knows that one can never substitute the other, because, in his words, they represent “two different ways to ‘talk’ about life”. He believes that
it is not possible to establish a cinematic equivalent to a literary text. But… just as one can film a landscape, one can film a text. Film it or film the voice that reads it. If I show a page from a book so that the spectator can read it on the screen, I am making cinema, and if I introduce someone who reads the text, I am also making cinema. Finally, if I use a narrative voice-over, I am still making cinema, and I am saving time (Baecque and Parsi, 53).
This comment, combined with the above description of Oliveira’s strategies in Acto da Primavera, allows for the identification of two central characteristics of Oliveira’s cinematic discourse, each of which has diverse ramifications. First, in Oliveira’s concept of cinema, language is just as important as the image. Emphasis on one or the other depends on the creative intentions of the filmmaker. He criticises
an extremely constraining and reductive conception of cinema that thinks that it is necessary to use pans or make the camera move in and out and that language belongs more to the theatre. No, the cinema is everything. Language is a precious element of cinema because it is a privileged element of mankind (Baecque and Parsi, 70).
In this sense, Oliveira has much in common with such cineastes as Rohmer, Godard, Straub and Huillet, and Duras. Second, in Oliveira’s films the line between cinema and theatre, on the one hand, and between fiction and documentary, on the other, is extremely tenuous. For him, the theatre represents the synthesis of all of the arts, with the cinema in second place. When one films something, particularly something involving actors, it is always and inevitably a staging, a form of theatre. And a film is also always a documentary, at the very least in the sense that it documents what is in front of the camera when one films. In this sense, a fictional film represents a documentary about the fiction (Cruchinho, 8).
These characteristics are articulated in the films of Manoel de Oliveira in diverse ways, but particularly through a number of formal traits that run through a large part of his work: literalness of adaptation, an explicitly theatrical mise en scène, emphasis on spoken language, self-reflexivity, and the mixture of diverse genres and modes of cinematic discourse.
Amor de Perdição
In his cinematic versions of plays, Oliveira normally uses the original text as written, with very few if any modifications. But in his adaptation of the novel Amor de Perdição, one also notes a strong tendency toward literalness, in at least two senses. First, respecting Camilo Castelo Branco’s narrative, Oliveira films practically all of the novel’s key episodes, limiting the kind of narrative condensation that normally occurs in the process of adaptation. One result is the stretching of the film’s duration to four hours and 22 minutes. The same holds for a somewhat lesser extent in Francisca, although here Oliveira makes extensive use of intertitles to locate and in some cases synthesise the characters’ actions. This tendency reaches an extreme in Oliveira’s version of Le Soulier de Satin, which lasts six hours and 40 minutes.
The second aspect of literalness in these films is the fact that Oliveira tends to use almost exclusively the words of the original work in the construction of the screenplay, both in dialogues and in voice-over narrations. Amor de Perdição has two narrators, one masculine, identified in the credits as “O Delator” (The Informer), another feminine, named “A Providência” (The Voice of Providence), besides the voices of the major characters. At times narration is redundant in relation to the image, at others it is discontinuous, leading or trailing the image or providing information that seemingly has nothing to do with the image. At other times again the narration assumes an ironic function in relation to the image. Characters engage in dialogue or at times think aloud, almost always using the words from the source-text in question.
Many of Oliveira’s films – even those that are not based on theatrical works – explicitly assume a high degree of theatricality in the mise-en-scène, the use of the camera, and the acting style or the mode of representation. Scenarios are often explicitly theatrical, with painted backdrops – not unlike Rohmer’s L’Anglaise et le Duc (2001), but without the digital effects. The composition of the frame is meticulous, with actors who frequently assume a frontal position in relation to the camera and, therefore, in relation to the screen and the spectator. Oliveira’s takes are often long, and the camera is frequently static. In films like Amor de Perdição and Francisca, even characters who are engaged in a dialogue often stand or sit looking at the camera, not at each other. One often has the impressions that actors say, but do not interpret, their character’s lines. The objective of this, I believe, is precisely to deflect the spectator’s attention from the image to the words spoken, which, as indicated above, are so important in Oliveira’s films.
Since Acto da Primavera (1963), Manoel de Oliveira’s films have been characterised by a strong self-reflexivity, emphasising the artificiality – or, better, the reality – of the cinematic process. The self-reflexivity may take the form of actors addressing the camera, of the visual presence of the filmmaker or of a foregrounding of the filmmaking apparatus and the process of production. To give but one of many possible examples, Benilde ou a Virgem-Mãe begins with a travelling shot backstage on the set in Lisbon’s Tobis Studios, before the camera penetrates the set per se, where the narrative unfolds in a highly theatrical filmic discourse. Through this technique, the cinema invades and in a sense becomes the theatre, or, as João Bénard da Costa puts it, the film travels from the cinema to the theatre. The film, based on a play by José Régio, is divided into three acts through the use of inter-titles, and it follows the dialogue to the letter. At the end, however, the initial journey from cinema to theatre is reversed through an astounding upward crane shot that reveals the set surrounded by the sound stage (João Bénard da Costa, 398).
Benilde e a Virgem-Mãe reveals Manoel de Oliveira’s frequent transit along the tenuous line between film and theatre (as do such films as Amor de Perdição, Francisca, Le Soulier de Satin, Mon Cas, and Je rentre à la maison, among others). In others, it is the line between fiction and documentary that is tenuous. Here again, one example will have to suffice. In 1992 Oliveira made O Dia do Desespero, which deals with the last days and suicide of Romantic novelist Camilo Castelo Branco and is based largely on the writer’s letters. Most of it was filmed in the house where Castelo Branco in fact committed suicide. The film opens, midway through the credits, with a 50-second static shot of a pen-and-ink portrait of the writer. Other portraits, always shot with a static camera, punctuate the film’s narrative, lending it a documentary tone from the outset.
After the credits, the camera focuses on a block of paper on a desk. A man’s hands come into view and he begins to write. The shot is interrupted by an intertitle that briefly explains Castelo Branco’s relationship with his daughter. There follows a four and a half minute high-angle shot of a carriage wheel rolling along a dirt road, while a male voiceover narration reads a letter the novelist had written to his daughter. The camera again is static, and yet the shot is not motionless because of the movement of the wheel, light and shadows, and the rhythm of the narrator’s voice. After several more shots – of the carriage moving along the road, of the sky, and of the house, which is apparently the carriage’s destination (apparently, because Oliveira does not show the carriage arriving) – the camera finally focuses on a man seated at a desk by a window.
The spectator might expect, at this point, that the “story” will now begin. However, the man seated at the desk stands up, faces the camera, and introduces himself as the actor Mário Barroso, who will be playing the role of Camilo Castelo Branco (and who played Castelo Branco in the earlier Francisca), and offers information about the writer. A bit later in the film, Ana Madruga, the actress who plays Castelo Branco’s companion Ana Plácido, does the same thing, at the same time briefly serving as a “guide” to the Castelo Branco museum where the film was shot. Despite the existence of these ostensibly “documentary” elements – the house, the portraits, the actors presenting themselves as such – O Dia de Desespero, Oliveira insists, is a fiction film, but it is one that refuses to deceive the spectator (in Baecque and Parsi, 56) by pretending to be what it is not. In O Dia de Desespero and other films, Manoel de Oliveira questions the ontological status of such terms as “fiction” and “documentary” and challenges, through the pursuit of his own cinematic vision, some of the filmic and narrative conventions that have come to dominate mainstream commercial cinema. His films also challenge the spectator to think about, rather than passively accept, that which is shown on the screen.

Works Cited

Antoine Baecque and Jacques Parsi, Conversas com Manoel de Oliveira, tr. Henrique Cunha. Porto, Campos das Letras, 1999.
João Bénard da Costa, Benilde ou a Virgem Mãe/1975, Textos CP, Pasta 59, Cinemateca Portuguesa, Lisbon, 15 December 1998, 397-398.
José Manuel Costa, “Acto da Primavera (1963),” Textos CP, Pasta 39, Cinemateca Portuguesa, 21 November 1988, 203-205.
Fausto Cruchinho, “Manoel de Oliveira ou Manuel de Oliveira?” onferência proferida por FC, Auditório do Centro de Juventude, Faro, 27 April 1995.
“Manoel de Oliveira: Entrevista,” in Olhares sobre Portugal: Cinema e Antropologia, Lisboa: Centro de Estudos de Antropologia Social do ISCTE e ABC Cine-Clube, n.d. Interview reprinted from Film 57, December 1963.
Randal Johnson, “Pierre Bourdieu on Art, Literature and Culture.” in Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, ed. Randal Johnson, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1993, 1-25.
José de Matos-Cruz, Manoel de Oliveira e a Montra das Tentações, Sociedade Portuguesa de Autores – Publicações Dom Quixote, Lisbon, 1996.
Manoel de Oliveira, Alguns projectos não realizados e outros textos, Cinemateca Portuguesa, Lisbon, 1988.
Manoel de Oliveira, “O Cinema e o Capital.” Movimento, no. 7 (1 October 1933). Reprinted in O Cinema de Manoel de Oliveira,Vértice, Coimbra, 1964, pp 50-52.

Manoel de Oliveira Filmography

Aniki-Bobó (1942), 35mm, 70 min.
Acto da Primavera (1962), 35mm, 90 min.
Passado e o Presente (1971) 35mm, 117 min.
Benilde ou a Virgem-Mãe (1974), 35mm, 106 min.
Amor de Perdição – Memórias de uma Familia (1978), 16mm, 262 min.
Francisca (1981), 35mm, 167 min.
Le Soulier de Satin (1985), 35mm, 400 min.
Mon Cas (1986), 35mm, 88 min.
Os Canibais (1988), 35mm, 99 min.
Non ou a Vã Glória de Mandar (1990), 35mm, 111 min.
A Divina Comédia (1991), 35mm, 141 min.
Dia do Desespero / Le Jour du Desespoir (1992), 35mm, 75 min.
Vale Abraão (1993), 35mm, 187 min.
A Caixa (1994), 35mm, 93 min.
Convento (1995), 35mm, 91 min.
Party (1996), 35mm, 91 min.
Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo (1997), 35mm, 95 min.
Inquietude (1998), 35mm, 114 min.
A Carta/La Lettre (1999), 35mm, 100 min.
Palavra e Utopia (2000), 35mm, 132 min.
Vou para Casa/Je Rentre à la Maison (2001), 35mm, 90 min.
Princípio da Incerteza, Jóia da Família (2002), 35mm, 90 min.

Shorts and documentaries
Douro, Faina Fluvial (1931), 35mm, 21 min.
Estátuas de Lisboa (1932), 35 mm, 8 min.
Hulha Branca, Empresa Hidro-Eléctrica do Rio Ave (1932), 35 mm, 7 min.
Miramar, Praia das Rosas (1938), 35mm, 9 min.
Portugal Já Faz Automóveis (1938), 35mm, 9 min.
Famalicão (1940), 35mm, 24 min.
O Pintor e a Cidade (1956), 35mm, 28 min.
O Pão (1959), 35mm, 59 min.
A Caça (1963), 35mm, 20 min.
Villa Verdinho – Uma Aldeia Transmontana (1964), 16mm, 18 min.
As Pinturas do meu Irmão Júlio (1965), 16mm, 16 min.
Visita ou Memórias e Confissões (1982), 35mm, 68 min [to be screened publicly only after director's death].
Lisboa Cultural/Lisbonne Culturelle (1983), 16mm, 58 min.
Nice – A Propos de Jean Vigo (1983), 16mm, 58 min.
Simpósio Internacional de Escultura em Pedra – Porto 1985 (1985),16mm, 60 min.
A Propósito da Bandeira Nacional (1987), 16mm, 7 min.
En une Poignée de Mains Amies (1996), 16mm, 25 min.
Porto da Minha Infancia (2001), 35mm, 62 min.


  1. The term “heteronomous” is used according to the sense given to it by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It refers to a principle of legitimation that is external to the specific interests of the field of production in question. In contrast, specific interests are subject to what Bourdieu calls an “autonomous” principle of hierarchisation or legitimation. For a discussion of these concepts, see Johnson.
  2. These numbers depend on how one counts. I have included among the films based on works of drama Mon Cas and Inquietude, which actually derive from more than one genre. The former is based on plays by José Régio and Beckett as well as the biblical Book of Job, the latter on a play by Prista Monteiro and narratives by António Patrício and Agustina Bessa-Luís.
  3. Financing in Portugal, which was ruled by a dictatorship from 1926 until 1974, depends largely on government concessions. Those in favour with the regime were more likely to receive financing than those who were not. The screenplays have been published in Alguns projectos não realizados e outros textos. The film Famalicão (1940) is the first film by Oliveira that mentions romantic writer Camilo Castelo Branco (1826-1890), who lived and ultimately committed suicide in the town. Castelo Branco is the author of Amor de Perdição (Doomed Love, 1862), which Oliveira would film in 1978, and he is a character in Francisca (1981). Oliveira’s O Dia do Desespero (Day of Despair) deals with the final days of the author’s life.

Gebo and the Shadow (2012)

Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura [Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl] (2009)

A Divina Comédia (1991)



Porto da Minha Infância (Trailer) (2001)

 O Pintor e a Cidade (1956)

 Vale Abraão (trailer) (1993)

Oliveira, Manoel de, port. redatelj (Porto, 1908). Iz obitelji industrijalaca, 1929. režira svoj prvi film Rad na obalama Doura, poetski dok. film virtuozno režiranih dinamičnih kompozicija, snimljen na ušću rijeke Douro. Potom se ugl. bavi obiteljskim poslom (1943–71. djeluje i kao inženjer u poljoprivredi), prvim igr. filmom Aniki-Bóbó (1942), snimljenim na autentičnim lokacijama Porta i s neprofesionalnim glumcima, korespondira s tal. neorealizmom, dok je kvazidok. ostvarenje Isusova muka (1963) djelomice blisko postavkama filma istine, ali uz prikaz rituala seoske izvedbe Kristova stradanja zasnovan na tenziji kaz. konvencija i otvorenog ambijenta. Kontinuirano režira od 1972., igr. filmove (ugl. adaptacije knjiž. djela) u kojima razvija prosede temeljen na raskošnoj i razrađenoj mizansceni, dugim kadrovima, izbjegavanju postupka plan–protuplan, polaganom ritmu, dekonstrukciji klas. naracije i realist. psihol. motivacije odn. identifikacije gledatelja s likovima (koji se često obraćaju kameri, a ne jedni drugima) te naglašavanju stilizacijskih efekata statičnih kadrova u studiju, sa zavjesama i kulisama, što pojačava dojam zatvorenosti i restrikcije. Prošlost i sadašnjost (1972), Benilde ili majka djevica (1975), Pogubna ljubav (1978) i Francisca (1981) čine tzv. Tetralogiju uzaludnih ljubavi usredotočenu na predstavljanje ljubavnih frustracija u buržoaskim ambijentima Portugala XVIII. i XIX. st., pri čemu Francisca do vrhunca dovodi redateljeve sklonosti prema sintezi knjiž., lik. i glazb. elemenata odn. komprimiranju port. kulture kroz spoj pesimizma, ironije i melankoličnih refleksija. Zaokupljenost kult. baštinom, temporalnošću i problemima predstavljanja, a uz naglašeno očitovanje knjiž. utjecaja razvidni su i u daljnjim filmovima. Satenska cipelica (1985) adaptacija je poetske drame P. Claudela, Ne ili uzaludna slava zapovijedanja (1990) komentar je port. kolonijalizma uobličen kroz rasprave likova okvirne priče (smještene u Angolu pred kraj port. vladavine) i retrospekcijske prikaze različitih razdoblja port. prošlosti, Božanstvena komedija (1991., velika posebna nagrada žirija u Veneciji), s radnjom u ludnici, kombinira mnoge knjiž. aluzije i citate (Biblija, Zločin i kazna), dok se Dolina Abraham (1993), adaptacija romana A. Bessa-Luísa, port. inačice Madame Bovary, s radnjom u okoštalim ambijentima port. buržoazije pol. XX. st., odlikuje nerazjašnjenim narativnim aluzijama i izvanprizornom naracijom koja komentira i često proturječi slikama. U Samostanu (1995) i Putovanju do početka svijeta (1997), zasnovanima na motivu putovanja, propituje složenu povratnu spregu fikcije odn. iluzije i zbilje, Pismo (1999., nagrada žirija u Cannesu) je osuvremenjena adaptacija romana Princeza od Klevea franc. spisateljice iz XVII. st., gospođe de Lafayette, u kojoj zadržavanje brojnih dijaloga iz predloška nadograđuje majstorskim varijacijama ritma i kompozicija kadrova, dok Načelo neodređenosti (2002), zasnovano na postupku udvostručavanja, ujedno varijacija motiva anđela i demona, do vrhunca dovodi autorova nagnuća senzualnom (ranije razvidna posebice u Dolini Abraham), kao i sklonost igri. Ostali važniji filmovi: Ljudožderi (1987), Dan očaja (1992), Riječ i utopija (2000), Vraćam se kući (2001).
B. Kragić


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