De Oliveira and Some Other Things

"In my last film (A divina comedia, author’s note), I imagine a dream by starting from something that does not exist, or if it does exist, it is something that I do not know well. Something I will show through colors and sound. But then they told me that in dreams there are no colors or sounds” (De Oliveira)

In an interview conducted in 1991 in Cannes by Serge Daney and Raymond Bellour with the Portuguese cineaste Manoelo de Oliveira (Bellour was a guest in Tuškanac in 2007 and 2011 during the Film Mutations Festival), de Oliviera answered their question whether film can shoot dreams with these word: “No! It is not a dream, it is life. In my last film (A divina comedia, author’s note), I imagine a dream by starting from something that does not exist, or if it does exist, it is something that I do not know well. Something I will show through colors and sound. But then they told me that in dreams there are no colors or sounds. I told them that it is a film dream!”. In order to better describe the broadness of Oliveira’s films, Bellour used the word “civilization” in the magazine Traffic. Moreover, let us not forget that the ending of his film Um filme falado in a way predicted the current suicide of Europe. It is not a dream anymore. It is a cruel reality.

The heroine of his erotic-macabre piece The Strange Case of Angelica floats somewhere near dreams and this great author, who passed away last April at the age of 105 deserves an expansive retrospective and not merely one film shoved in together with the quite disheveled company of “Ibero-American” authors. It seems as if his fellow countrymen Joao Correa and Francisco Manso (The Consul of Bordeaux) did not learn anything from de Oliveire about how to make historical films and how “you cannot start to film a historical film if you do not research the history or rather research of objectivity” as de Oliveira explained to Daney and Bellour. He added how he “always starts from historical texts as they seem to be the firmest”. In the story about the diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, who was a sort of a Portuguese Schindler who helped Jews fleeing form the war-torn Europe, Correa i Manso did not care much about de Oliveira’s words and they merely scratched the surface focusing merely on the esthetics of the historical telenovela.

Even when he treats history in an utterly ironic manner, as was the case in his last year’s short film O velho do restelo, a bizzare dialogue of historical ghouls who speak in a language of fire and lunacy, de Olivieira firmly stands in presence. It seems that de Oliveira never turned off the camera, even when it was growing heavier and more immobile like his limbs, and turned his back on movement and dialogue. However, that does not mean that The Strange Case of Angelica, similar to the author’s film Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl that was shown in one of the Programs of Ibero-American films and deals with the same hero’s gestures and the motif of crazy love, but in a different tone, it is less complex, mystical, entertaining and melodious. On the contrary. It is all that. Like a night freed from darkness. It is a film that evokes an almost biblical encounter of heaven and earth; a film in which the author’s close-ups contemplate the world weaved out of shadows, hidden glances and seductive words transformed into a river. The author’s river Douro next to which the grapes are taking a swim in the sunshine. The same river by which he filmed his first film (Douro, faira fluvial, 1931).

Therefore, we can say that de Oliveira was the only living cineaste who caught the train of the Lumiere brothers and took a long film ride during which he never parted with his camera, even when he reached his 100th birthday. On the other hand, Chilean Ignacio Rodriguez (La chupilca del diablo) is not even 25, but in his story about the old owner of an illegal distillery and his grandson who helps him in work and who becomes the old man’s last hope to reconcile with his family and the world, shows an amazing author maturity. The title of the film refers to the mixture of gunpowder and alcohol consumed by Chilean soldiers in the 19th century in order to become more amped for the fighting).

Similar to Rodriguez, in his hypnotic story about redemption and rebirth Chilean Matias Rojas Valencia (Root) is also focused on the landscape, to which he adds an almost mystical note and treats it as a mirror in which deep inner transformations of his heroes are reflected. However, the same cannot be said about the good-humored Brazilian Bruno Barreto (Bossa Nova) whose Rio gets transformed into an exotic tourist postcard. Their utter antipode is the much respected Pablo Trapero (Leonera) who in his intimate and controlled portrayal of a woman’s fight for motherhood practically never leaves the claustrophobia of a prison. However, there is no room for Pam Grier in it, but it does not mean that his interiors are any less brutal, even though it was obviously hard for the author too abandon his heroine after she left her dark lair, crossed the river and entered Paraguay in search of a new life.

While the Argentinian Marcos Carnevale (Heart of a Lion) likes to flirt with the feelgood rom-com esthetics of Nancy Myers ('What is the most painful thing about being so short?' the hero is asked by a long-legged brunette in high heels. 'My neck,' he answers), Spanish Rodrigo Sorogoyen (Stockholm) is closer to the American indie rhetoric of Richard Linklater. And Spanish director Gracia Querejeta (15 Years and One Day) introduces the character of a former soldier who tries to set his rebellious teenage grandson on the straight path and teaches him order and discipline, even though life is something more than a rigid jogging route of six kilometers per day. With such a story, one is likely to get nominated for the 'Goya'. (Dragan Rubeša)