Oliveira’s posthumous film unveiled
by Vitor Pinto
- Shot in 1981, Oliveira’s Visita ou Memórias e Confissões is a celebration of life and an exaltation of family love
After all was said and done, there was still another film by Manoel de Oliveira, who passed away last month at the age of 106 (read more) – a film that he had directed in 1981 so that it would only be screened after his death. Thirty-four years – and nearly 30 films – later, Visita ou Memórias e Confissões (lit. “Visit or Memories and Confessions”) was finally unveiled yesterday to a curious audience that filled the grand auditorium of the Rivoli Theatre in Oliveira’s hometown of Porto.
Visita ou Memórias e Confissões is striking thanks to its unconditional freedom, in terms of both its form and its content, and its title is absolutely in line with what is depicted in the film: a visit (to a house); memories (from a lifetime); and confessions (of a 73-year-old director who probably didn’t expect he would continue filming as long as he did). Trees have roots, houses have foundations, and Oliveira had a family. The film starts off with the director reading the names of his technical and artistic crew as a voiceover while filming the trees in the garden of the house where he lived with his wife, Maria Isabel, and with his four children for over 40 years. The house was then, in the early 1980s, about to be sold in order to pay off some debts.
That fact led Oliveira to film the place (both outdoors and indoors) and to delve into some of the moments he lived through while he was there. Consequently, there is room for some personal testimonies while looking straight into the camera, but there are also segments featuring family films and old photos, besides a film within the film – a whole section in which Oliveira’s 1963 capture by the police of the Salazar regime is recreated as fiction.
Simultaneously, this house is also invaded by a man and a woman, who explore its several rooms while reading a dialogue written by Agustina Bessa-Luís – back then a friend and a regular collaborator of Oliveira’s. We hear Diogo Dória’s and Teresa Madruga’s voices, but we never actually get to see them, as their sequences – like many others – make use of PoV shots to capture the house’s fabulous modernist lines and decadent beauty.
And yes, what was until last night the best-kept secret in Portuguese cinema is indeed a legacy film, a project looking back on the past without any nostalgia and celebrating the life of a man who was also an artist. But, as Oliveira’s wife says in one of the film’s scenes, surrounded by colourful dahlias, “The man and the artist can’t be apart”; they both merge into a single, indivisible, complex, obstinate, intellectual and mystical being that made Manoel de Oliveira such a unique figure in the world of cinema.