Sunday, February 06, 2011

de Oliveira's Angelica

The latest film by Manoel de Oliveira, The Strange Case of Angelica, is a beguiling film in many ways. I found that it is best described by an answer that Manoel de Oliveira gave to an interviewer.

- Question: What is cinema for you today?
- Answer: It's the same as it was for Lumière, for Méliès and Max Linder. There you have realism, the fantastic and the comic. There's nothing more to add to that, absolutely nothing.

The film rolls this basic idea into one.
I have to say I enjoyed this film more than his previous film Eccentricities of a Blond-haired Girl if only because it is a far more intriguing.
I would argue that the film is more than just a simple fable about a photographer who falls in love with a dead woman. I would say it is - at the very least - a film about a man who dies the moment he has a strange encounter with the dead woman. Only he doesn't literally die. He just slides into a funk that leads to his inevitable death. In the context of the film it is about the way in which his spirit eventually leaves his body.

But why would he want his spirit to leave his body for a woman he never actually met?

In part this can be explained by the way Oliveira employs various anachronistic touches. The photographer -who still uses real film - seems to be a character out of time. He spends some of his time photographing day laborers who work on a hill lined with olive trees [Oliveira means 'olive tree'].  He doesn't seem interested in 'modern' technology or ideas. And so it seems Oliviera is saying something about our contemporary age as well.

However, in part this might be because the film was derived from a project Oliveira had developed in 1952. It should be noted that according to an interview with Oliveira [from the press notes] he says the protagonist of the original idea for the film was a Jewish man who had fled Nazi persecutions and settled in Portugal as a photographer. This bit of information, which is nowhere alluded to in the finished film, is an interesting back story that [would] in part explain why he seems lost, confused out-of-place and and out-of-time.

If this was actually part of the film then the encounter with the dead woman would just be one reason for him to leave - or die. I kind of wish that World War II element was in the film because it would explain much more. It would provide a history to the character and explain his motivations.  But as it is it in the film all the motivations are more puzzling and almost surreal.

Here is the trailer.

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