A Postmodern Interval Piece From a Cinema Titan
A titanic determine, the Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015) acquired his begin within the period of silent cinema and accomplished his final characteristic on the age of 105.
Not each one among Oliveira’s many movies, the overwhelming majority of which had been made after he turned 65, could be thought of nice — he was a filmmaker given to experimentation. However a superb many are, and “Francisca” (1981), streaming in a digital restoration from Movie at Lincoln Middle, is one.
A leisurely two hours and 45 minutes, set in mid-1850s Portugal with the nation in unseen political turmoil, the film tells a story of “ill-omened ardour” (its suitably Victorian time period for insane romantic love). Oliveira constructs an enigmatic, unbalanced triangle consisting of a phenomenal and harmless English lady, Francisca “Fanny” Owen, a louche and good-looking Portuguese aristocrat, José Augusto, and the cynical author Camilo Castelo Branco.
Though resembling a Nineteenth-century novel, “Francisca” is definitely meta Nineteenth-century; fairly than making the setting appear pure, Oliveira renders it unusual. The film is an adaptation of a pastiche written by the feminist writer Agustina Bessa-Luís. Branco is an actual individual, one among Portugal’s nice writers, however Fanny and José Augusto (performed by Teresa Menezes and Diogo Dória) are larger-than-life fictions. The actors who play the English angel and her Byronic cad are taller than their solid mates and — divinities come to earth — tower over the diminutive Branco.
“Francisca” is each classical and postmodern, a cross between a lush Visconti interval piece and the stylized expressionism of “The Cupboard of Dr. Caligari.” Oliveira evokes the previous as if reconstructing a dinosaur from a handful of bones. Totally different planes of existence intersect all through. José Augusto is launched at a society ball, a wax statue amid a riotous whirl of masked revelers. Greater than as soon as, the aristocratic protagonists come across singing peasants seemingly oblivious to the doings of their social betters.
Oliveira is a frugal filmmaker and a grasp of digital camera placement. Many sequences play out in a single shot as if to doc their very own artifice. Fanny’s theatrical line readings alternate with deadpan grand gestures. Having been expelled from Fanny’s household house, suggestively named Paraiso (Paradise), José Augusto twice rides his horse into Camilo’s room to report the information.
Mysteries proliferate. On the eve of his marriage to Fanny, José Augusto receives, courtesy of Camilo, a packet of letters written by Fanny. Studying them, he’s pushed into a chilly fury — that may solely be construed as pure plot machine. Neither the content material nor the unique recipient of the deadly letters is ever revealed. (Nor, it ought to be mentioned, is the precise nature of the couple’s perverse, self-defeating want.)
“The soul is a vice,” Fanny proclaims at one level, and, after working off with José Augusto, she goals of Camilo bad-mouthing his rival and threatening to take her soul away. A lot within the film implies that the author has stage-managed the entire fiction. He does have the final phrase — or fairly, Oliveira does.
For all its doomy descent into darkness, “Francisca” ends within the boîte the place José Augusto acquired the letters, reprising the homosexual music of the masked ball that opened the movie.
Out there for streaming at Movie at Lincoln Middle, beginning Nov. 12; filmlinc.org.
Rewind is an occasional column protecting revived, restored and rediscovered motion pictures.
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