Manoel de Oliveira: four short films to celebrate a long life
by Vitor Pinto
- Porto/Post/Doc has celebrated the director’s 106th birthday by screening four of his short films, including his debut work, Douro, Faina Fluvial, and his latest, O Velho do Restelo
Yesterday, Manoel de Oliveira turned 106 years old, and Porto/Post/Doc did not want to let this momentous date pass by unnoticed. In one screening, the recently founded gathering (read more) showed four shorts by the director. The compilation, entitled Manoel de Oliveira – 4 Filmes, is also released this week on the commercial theatrical circuit, distributed by Midas Filmes. Oliveira, who was in attendance at the Rivoli Theatre, did not speak, but listened intently to the night’s speeches, before the entire audience sang him happy birthday in unison.
Douro, Faina Fluvial (1931) was first shown when Oliveira was 23 years old. An impressive blend of fiction and documentary, with an edit and some truly heart-stopping shots that still seem fresh and modern even today, the film revolves around the inhabitants of the Ribeira neighbourhood, near the mouth of the River Douro, and seems to be a tentative precursor to what would later become Italian neorealism.
O Pintor e a Cidade (1956) is the first film that Oliveira made in colour. The director filmed the painter António Cruz over a number of days while he was working in the streets of Porto. What follows is an aesthetic face-off between the point of view of the painter, with its colour gradations, and that of the filmmaker, with its picture-postcard shots of the city.
His subsequent short Painéis de São Vicente de Fora, Visão Poética (2010) sees some of the figures portrayed in the famous painting by Nuno Gonçalves discuss thorny issues such as peace and globalisation. In this short, their thoughtful dialogue, which is full of historical references, already begins to edge nearer to the content of his latest film.
Premiered this year at Venice, O Velho do Restelo seats three authors (Luis de Camões, Camilo de Castelo Branco and Teixeira de Pascoaes) and a literary character (Don Quijote) on a garden bench, as they discuss the legacy of their works and how they have been reflected in the history of Portugal. While it is not the “last will and testament film” that people have been talking about, it undoubtedly encapsulates some of the director's interest in literature and history that has guided his body of work over the last few decades.
A lot has been written about Oliveira, but perhaps the boldest and most eloquent of all the tributes came from another filmmaker, João César Monteiro, who was quoted yesterday in the speech by the director of Porto/Post/Doc: in Portugal there is a filmmaker who is too big for the country, and there are therefore only two solutions: either the country expands or the director shrinks. Happy birthday, Manoel de Oliveira!
(Translated from Spanish)