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Saturday, June 18, 2011


Manoel de Olivera, everyone’s favorite centenarian Portugese filmmaker, seems unable to stop making films for the international fest market. And reviewers & committee-members seem pleased to have him in attendance. (Do the films get shown anywhere else?) This one is a short fable on romantic folly. A young accountant espies a lovely creature in the window of the house across the street as he sits at his desk and is hopelessly infatuated at first sight. He suffers his uncle’s ill-will & a jobless stint before reaching his goal. But now that he’s engaged, perhaps the person who now stands so enticingly next to him won’t match his romanticized image? It’s all told in flashback by our sadder-but-wiser lover to another woman, a stranger on a train. These two barely make eye-contact, but look ahead at oblique angles. A comment on the difficulties of human interaction . . . or just looking for the prompter? Indeed, the film, a mere 60 minutes, does play out like a one-act opera with long static compositions, beautifully, if darkly lit, and only brief moments of interaction and camera movement. There’s even a touch of Debussy on the soundtrack to raise thoughts of PELLEAS AND MELISANDE. You look harder than you need to, not because the atmosphere is so involving, but because you’d like something to do. Over there: a bit of foreshadowing in a vanishing poker chip. Out of the blue: a stranger asks about a lost hat on a bridge, but then doesn’t bother to look for it. Birds sitting in a clock, startled into flight when it rings. Masters like Buñuel grew out of this tradition, out of unexplained events, what’s missing in Olivera is the mastery.

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