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Francisco Ferreira on Manoel de Oliveira’s Gebo and the Shadow

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Here’s Francisco Ferreira on Manoel de Oliveira’s Gebo and the Shadow in the journal Cinemascope.

As Ferreira notes, in part, “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 neighbors Chamiço and Candidinha (Luís Miguel Cintra and Jeanne Moreau): their favorite 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 colors and image here have a pictorial sense and a distinctive purpose . . . the shadow [of the title] 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.”

To which Gwendolyn Audrey Foster adds, “Oliveira is like a time traveler who takes us back to another century, illuminated by candles and philosophy . . . he’s the only truly significant classical artist left in the cinema,” a sentiment with which I heartily agree. Oliveira is now 106 years old – his birthday is December 11th, 1908 – and I keep hearing reports that his health is now, perhaps inevitably, precarious, though he has just completed two short films, and I sincerely hope that he will make more features.

After laboring in near-obscurity for decades, Oliveira really began to burst forth on the international scene in his eighties, and has in the last yen years developed a very late classical style which is at once restrained and deeply penetrating; as I’ve said before, he makes viewers work for their pleasures in his films, but in the end, the cumulative effect is staggering. Oliveira truly is the last great classical filmmaker, in the tradition of Renoir, Bresson, and others, and yet his works are still little known, and Gebo and the Shadow, to date, has only a European Region 2 DVD release – but with English subtitles, so there’s no excuse for not getting a copy now. Having recently suffered through the trivialities of the Academy Awards – and every year, though I’m asked to comment, this year vowing never to do so again – seeing something of this quality restores my faith in the cinema, and in art, though no one- absolutely no one – is now working in the cinema at the same level as Oliveira. I urge you to see this film at once.

You can read Ferreira’s excellent article by clicking here, or on the image above.

Happy 104th Birthday, Manoel de Oliveira!

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Manoel de Oliveira directs Claudia Cardinale in his new film Gebo and the Shadow (2012).

I simply can’t get around it; Manoel de Oliveira is my favorite director working right now, period, and at the age of 104 — it’s just astounding — he has released a few film, Gebo and the Shadow (2012). His birthday was actually December 11th, but he’s been making films since 1927, and directing since 1931 — also simply astounding — which means he has been directing films for 82 years. There’s no one else who can even approach that record, and the most amazing thing is that Oliveira is still vital, active, writing and directing films that are among the best he’s ever done, really only hitting his stride in his late 80s. In this latest film, working with such topflight talent as Claudia Cardinale, Jeanne Moreau, Michael Lonsdale and Ricardo Trepa, Oliveira spins the tale of Gebo, a man living in a house in reduced circumstances with his mother and daughter in law, whose son Joao has long since vanished for parts unknown. Suddenly, one night, Joao returns. Is it for good, or for ill?

As Boyd van Hoeij of Variety notes of the film, which screened at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2012, “the dean of helmers, [the then] 103-year-old Portuguese maestro Manoel de Oliveira, adds another striking entry to his ever-lengthening filmography with Gebo and the Shadow. The French-language adaptation of a Raul Brandao play, about a poor Lusitanian family awaiting the return of its vagabond offspring, offers a variation on the parable of the prodigal son. In a late-career standout, Claudia Cardinale limns the role of the impressionable mother, who’s been kept in the dark about her son’s nothing-to-write-home-about ways.”

Oliveira’s long career has long been a source on wonderment and inspiration for me; even now, at the age of 104, he is currently working on pre-production for his sixtieth film, The Church of the Devil. His 2010 film The Strange Case of Angelica marked the first time Oliveira used digital special effects work, but he handled it with his typical restraint and mastery. It’s a shame that his work doesn’t get the distribution in the US that it so clearly deserves, since 1997 in particular, he’s racked up a stack of absolute masterpieces, including Voyage to the Beginning of the World, I’m Going Home, A Talking Picture, Magic Mirror, Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl and many others.

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer for Gebo and The Shadow.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him wdixon1@unl.edu or his website, wheelerwinstondixon.com

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