Portugal bids farewell to Manoel de Oliveira
by Vitor Pinto
- Portugal’s most highly acclaimed director died this morning at the age of 106
Manoel de Oliveira passed away this morning at the age of 106. Besides being the most internationally acclaimed Portuguese director, he was also the oldest active filmmaker in the world. His legacy includes 33 features and several shorts, and his death has generated immense grief among local and international film professionals and devoted fans.
Manoel de Oliveira was born on 11 December 1908 in Porto. After working with Rino Lupo on the film Fátima Milagrosa in 1928, he directed his first short, Working on the Douro River, in 1931. His swan song, O Velho do Restelo, premiered last year at the Venice Film Festival ahead of a local theatrical distribution, which was launched to celebrate his 106th birthday (read more).
Between Working on the Douro River and O Velho do Restelo, Oliveira enjoyed a career spanning 83 years, during which he wrote and directed several films considered emblematic in the history of Portuguese cinema, such as, during the first decades, Aniki Bobó (1942) and The Artist and the City (1956). But it was only after the Revolution, in 1974, that Oliveira entered a more prolific creative period, building up a solid and more regular body of work, which includes several literary adaptations and films that reflected on the history of Portugal. Among the most famous of these are Doomed Love (1979), Francisca (1981), No, or the Vain Glory of Command (1990), The Convent (1995), Party (1996), Word and Utopia (2000) and, more recently, Belle Toujours [+see also:
film profile] (2006) and The Strange Case of Angelica [+see also:
film profile] (2010), based on a script originally written 40 years beforehand.
In 2011, when interviewed by a local daily, 103-year-old Oliveira talked about his life but also about his death: “I am not at all afraid. I fear pain, not death. Once you die, your spirit becomes free.” His wish was to continue working until his death, and that is just what he did. Already physically debilitated, he managed to shoot part of his last short film, O Velho do Restelo, in the garden of his Porto home.
Sometimes criticised by his detractors for the demanding and theatre-driven style of his films, Oliveira remained indifferent to criticism and built up his reputation as a talented and uncompromising filmmaker who not only influenced younger generations, but also contributed to shaping the image of auteur-driven Portuguese cinema worldwide.
Reactions to his death will certainly pay tribute to the man and his talent, but it is likely that no homage will ever be wittier or more effective than a comment once made by late director João César Monteiro: 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. Rest in peace, maestro.