Life and Other Stories

The most famous author of the new retrospective of Ibero-American films is the doyen of Portuguese, European and world film, Manoel de Oliveira, an extremely vital and the oldest active director in the world, who at the age of 104 still makes two films a year

The energetic Manoel Cândido Pinto de Oliveira is the only living author who made both silent and sound films in his country and has been practically continuously active for more than eight decades, to be exact from his first film Douro, Faina Fluvial in 1931. In most of his films, documentaries and feature films, he generally deals with the fate of the world and the meaning of life and death. He draws his inspiration and energy from the theatre, literature and philosophy. This time he is presenting himself with a romantic drama called Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl from 2009, a story about Macári, a young man from Lisbon who, while travelling to the town of Algarve on the coast, tells a story to his co-traveller in the train about his blind infatuation with an attractive blond Luisa. His love made his strict uncle and benefactor Francisco to fire him and send him away. This is an extremely suggestively directed, atmospheric, stylized and poetic Buñuel-like story of blind love, losing one's mind, obsession and escape, starring in the main role the director's grandson Ricardo Trêpa, and as his partner de Oliveira's long-time muse Leonor Silveira.

Political drama The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, which won the Golden Bear in Berlin, by the Brazilian director Cao Hamburger, cleverly uses a dramatic formula of a bright and intelligent kid who in an innocent manner and with complete misunderstanding registers turbulent social events in the totalitarian society that surrounds him. It is the time of the Football world Cup in 1970 and the Brazilian football team, led by Pelé, charges for the title. Ten year old gentile Mauro is left by his parents, the left-wing regime fighters who are forced to flee the country. They leave him with his old grandfather in Sao Paolo, not knowing that he had just died. Mauro finds an unwilling protector in his grandfather's neighbor Schlomo, an old orthodox Jew, and the kid learns how hard life by meeting different religions and cultures, finds the magic of first love, but also understands the truth in his father's words that "in football, everyone can make a mistake, except the goalkeeper". It is a well-directed film with good actors and full of unobtrusive existential anxiety of a child, which makes it a definite recommendation.

The successful and interesting western drama Six Shooters, co-written and directed by Fernando Spiner, is a successful adaptation of the story “Aballay" by the Argentinean writer and journalist Antonio Di Benedetto. It won eight awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Argentina in 2011. Generally it is considered to be the best film in the career of the award-winning documentary filmmaker and director of short and feature films and TV series Fernando Spiner, who is also the author of the acclaimed fantastic drama La sonámbula. Visually it is an effective work with expanding tragedy, a kind of an Argentinean spaghetti western, which functions equally well as a dedication to Argentinean cowboys called gauchos, and as homage to brutally realistic works of other film makers that the director is fond of such as Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone and Walter Hill. Antonio Di Benedetto wrote under the influence of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky and Luigi Pirandello, and his works are compared by the critics to the ones of Julio Cortázaro and Ernesto Sábato. The story used as inspiration for the film’s script was written during his captivity, from March 1976 until September 1977, during the dictatorship of general Videla.

The intriguing and very successful biographic sport drama Heleno, which won awards in festivals in Havana and Lima, is the work of a talented Brazilian José Henrique Fonseca. It portrays the tragic destiny of the exceptionally talented but almost equally self-destructive Brazilian football player Heleno de Freitas (played by the very good actor Rodrigo Santoro), a player nicknamed Prince Cursed, who had his star moments during the 1940’s as a striker for the club Botafogo. He died in 1959 from complications related to untreated syphilis. In the film the director uses rather effective black and white photography and meticulously adhers to the facts. With fragmented narration and jumps, through a parallel display of the final period of Heleno's life and his "golden years" shown in retrospective, the director and co-writer Fonseca shows the layers of his personality as an egoistic and immature young man who couldn't and didn't know how to fight his own demons. Following him in his struggle were his closest friend Alberto, who under the circumstances became close to Heleno's wife Silvia, and his attractive mistress Diamantina. In the story of Heleno, visually presented through expressive photography by Walter Carvalho (Central Station), passion is intertwined with sorrow, enjoyment of life with suicidal instincts. It is as if Eros and Thanatos never stop dancing together.

Satirically humorous drama The Man Next Door, directed by Argentinean directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, will remind the viewers of the TV drama Buža (Hole) by Vanča Kljaković. The story of the film is about the globally acclaimed designer Leonard, a man whose harmonious and yet somewhat cold and monotonous life with his wife and daughter suddenly begins to change. Their new neighbor Victor, who seems as a short-tempered and aggressive man, starts making a hole for his window in the wall opposite their window. Not used to the mess, disregard for the law and noise (in life and in general as Leonardo and his family communicate among themselves very quietly and steadily), the family is suddenly facing a drastically different, one could say “real” world. It is a world not dominated by regular geometric shapes as the interior of their home, the world where thoughts, conversations and everyday rituals are interrupted by continuous and persistent banging of a hammer, the world in which the neighbor Victor, a man of the people and very direct in communication, who isn't even a stranger to bribery and who will in the end be portrayed in a completely different light, symbolizes its more realistic, more lifelike and maybe even lighter side.

The humorous romantic drama The Gift is also made by two directors, Chilean Cristián Galaz and Andrea Ugalde, who created a benign, but very charming, unpretentious and easily watchable story without conflict about discovering the importance of love and friendship when you are older. The protagonist is the timid and kind Francisco, a recently retired physics professor who, faced with new circumstances in life and still sad because of the recent death of his wife, starts thinking about suicide. But once he starts preparing the terrain for the act, his friends for several decades Pacheco, Tito and Nicolás will surprise him by inviting him to a trip to the spa, where there is Francisco's love from his youth Lucy, but also the energetic Carmen, a woman who will like him immediately. The biggest quality of this entirely predictable film is the sufficient mix of comedy of situation, character and errors with serious and darker existential motifs.

From the rest of this year's retrospective of Ibero-American films it is worth mentioning the award-winning drama Don't be Afraid by the Spanish director Montx Armendáriz, which is an involved, emotional, psychologically nuanced and quite impressive study about the abused teenager Silvia. Another film worth seeing is the harsh, effective and anxious thriller No Peace For The Wicked by Armendáriz's fellow Spanish director Enrique Urbizu, an energetically directed story with noire tones about the policeman Jose Coronado who is forced to pay back the debts for the sins he has committed. (Josip Grozdanić)