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Posts Tagged ‘The Strange Case of Angelica’

Manoel de Oliveira’s Last Film: “Visit, or Memories and Confessions”

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Manoel de Oliveira left a surprise after his recent death at age 106; a film shot in 1982, but never released.

Readers of this blog will know that of all filmmakers working in the 20th century, I value Manoel de Oliveira above everyone else; this is a purely personal choice, and anyone would be foolish to discount the value of such auteurs as Renoir, Bresson, Ozu, Dreyer – the list goes on and on – but Oliveira speaks to me the most clearly, and I find his best films inexhaustible treasures that can be visited and revisited over and over again, yielding new insights with each viewing.

Oliveira was also a trickster of sorts; many of his films have surprise endings, which you can’t see coming in the distance, and now, in death, his estate has released Oliveira’s last film, shot in 1982, but which Oliveira insisted could not be screened until after his death – on April 2, 2015 – and until the first screening of Visit, or Memories and Confessions, the film sat in a vault for more than thirty years.

Finally – though frankly I wish that Oliveira had lived another twenty years, and made twenty more films, rather than see this posthumous effort – Visit, or Memories and Confessions was shown at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. As critic Ben Kenigsberg wrote of the occasion, “Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira made a film in the early 1980s that he requested not be shown to the public before his death.

That turned out to be more than three decades after the film was shot: Oliveira died in April at 106, following the most prolific period of his career; his recent films include The Strange Case of Angelica and Gebo and the Shadow. Titled Visit, or Memories and Confessions, this unearthed film, slightly more than an hour long, screened at Cannes Classics last night—on celluloid, no less.

Funded in 1981 (the festival catalog gives the completion date as 1982), Visit is—it should come as a surprise to no one—an intensely personal movie, essentially a family album in motion. ‘It’s a film by me, about me,’ Oliveira says in voiceover as the movie begins. ‘Right or wrong, it’s done.’ Cued by an alternating man-and-woman narration, the movie is largely set on the grounds of a house that Oliveira tell us he has lived in since 1942. Part of the occasion for making the movie, it seems, is that he has had to sell the home to pay some debts.

At the risk of reading too much into Oliveira’s intentions, you can see why he might have wanted the movie released as a sort of ghost story. Much of Visit concerns the haunting emptiness of this once-bustling home: We hear constant footsteps and watch doors open, Jean Cocteau–style, as we move from room to room, but a good portion of the film goes by before we actually see a human being. The first is Oliveira himself, who appears at the typewriter where he writes his treatments and turns to the camera to address us.

His musings are as idiosyncratic as they are private. He waxes philosophical, shows us photographs and film footage of his family, and recalls visits to the house by such figures as the great film theorist André Bazin. His wife turns up briefly (‘You can’t separate the artist from the man,’ she says), but this is primarily Oliveira’s reflection on his own life.

Late in the film, in a powerful anecdote, he speaks of his 1963 arrest by the secret police under Portugal’s then-repressive government. ‘I’ve always sacrificed everything so I could make my films,’ he says. Visit closes with a flourish suggesting that this director who lived more than a century remained eternally young.”

I’d love to see this on DVD, but I doubt that will ever happen; one last gift from the great Manoel.

The Strange Case of Angelica by Manoel de Oliveira

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer for this magical film.

At 103, when most of us are either retired or departed, Manoel de Oliveira is stronger than ever as a filmmaker. He made this gorgeous film, The Strange Case of Angelica, in 2010, at the age of 101. Here’s the trailer; this is a gorgeous, deeply felt film, with more than a touch of Oliveira’s usual humor.

A young photographer, Isaac (Ricardo Trêpa) is summoned to the home of a rich landowner, to photograph his daughter, Angelica (Pilar López de Ayala) who has just died, shortly after being married, and is lying in state with a serene smile on her face. To Isaac’s shock, when he looks through the viewfinder of his camera, Angelica seems to return to life, and smile at him warmly, though no one else in the room sees this. When he returns to his small room in a boarding house where he lives, Isaac develops the photos, and once again sees Angelica seemingly beckoning to him from the beyond.

What happens next is a sublime mystery, which I won’t reveal here, other than to echo the words of Jim Hoberman, Manohla Dargis, and numerous other critics; the film is a masterpiece, one of the most deeply felt films of recent memory, and a splendid antidote to the junk being churned out by the major studios.

The DVD of The Strange Case of Angelica also contains Manoel de Oliveira’s first film, Douro, Faina Fluvial (Labor on the Douro River, 1931); a documentary on Oliveira’s work by by Paulo Rocha; and an interview with Oliveira shot during the production of the film, entitled Absoluto, in which Oliveira contemplates the moral bankruptcy of modern cinema, rattles off a list of his favorite directors (including Godard, Bresson, Kiarostami, Welles, Ford, and numerous others), and deplores the “brain washing” that is currently taking place with the “forced consensus” of mass media.

All in all, The Strange Case of Angelica is a gorgeous film, which you absolutely should not miss if you have any love for the cinema at all; available in DVD or Blu-ray; take your pick. Oliveira has the distinction of being the oldest continually active filmmaker in the history of the cinema; he is also, thankfully, one of the greatest, whose work, amazingly, only improves with age. The Strange Case of Angelica is a romantic, thoughtful, absolutely transcendent work — please see it without delay.

The charm of The Strange Case of Angelica lies in the way it balances this mysticism with a thoroughly secular sense of the business of everyday life. Not that any of the nonsupernatural occurrences that surround Isaac — the Greek-chorus chitchat among his landlady and her friends; the steady work in the fields and olive groves; the rise and fall of empires and economies — are exactly banal. The world as seen through Mr. Oliveira’s lens is as fresh as if it had just been discovered and as thick with secrets as if it had always existed.

Of course, both things are more or less true, and Oliveira’s film has the added virtue of feeling entirely original even as it evokes a number of rich literary and cinematic traditions. As a ghost story, it owes more to Henry James’ psychological curiosity than to Edgar Allan Poe’s sensationalism, but it is also indebted to the various kinds of realism that flourished, in film and in novels, in the early and middle decades of the last century. Finally, though, it exhausts comparison, even to other films by this director, who has both done everything and is just getting started.” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times 12/28/2010

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. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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