[Marxism] Manoel de Oliveira, Pensive Filmmaker Who Made Up for Lost Time, Dies at 106

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 3 14:48:17 MDT 2015

(He relaunched his filmmaking career when he was in his 60s. That makes 
me feel not so strange getting involved with video in my own twilight 

NY Times, Apr. 3 2015
Manoel de Oliveira, Pensive Filmmaker Who Made Up for Lost Time, Dies at 106

Manoel de Oliveira, the acclaimed Portuguese filmmaker whose career 
began in the silent era, flowered in the 1970s with the end of 
authoritarian rule in his country and ended with a surge of productivity 
extending into his 11th decade, died on Thursday at his home in Oporto, 
Portugal. He was 106.

His death was announced by the City Council of Oporto.

For much of the past 25 years Mr. Oliveira was known among cinephiles as 
the world’s oldest active filmmaker. Unable to work for decades under 
the repressive right-wing government of António de Oliveira Salazar, who 
came to power in 1932, Mr. Oliveira started making up for lost time in 
his 60s, at an age when most directors are entering their creative twilight.

Almost as old as cinema itself, Mr. Oliveira often seemed like a 
filmmaker out of time, or perhaps of many times, a 20th-century 
modernist drawn to the themes and traditions of earlier eras. He was 
known for ruminative, melancholic, often eccentric movies about grand 
subjects like the nature of love and the ever-present specter of death.

Critics noted that his age, combined with his belated coming-of-age as 
an artist, granted him a certain freedom. Reviewing his 1998 movie 
“Inquiétude,” the French journal Cahiers du Cinéma said of Mr. Oliveira, 
“He is sovereign, free, unique, perched high on a tightrope no one else 
can reach, defying the laws of gravity and above all the rules of 
cinematic decorum and commerce.”

Manoel Cândido Pinto de Oliveira was born on Dec. 11, 1908, in Oporto. 
His father was an industrialist who owned a dry-goods factory and later 
built a hydroelectric plant. Mr. Oliveira dropped out of college and, 
before turning to filmmaking, compiled an impressive résumé as an 
athlete. He was a pole-vaulter, diver and racecar driver and even 
briefly performed in a trapeze act.

He entered the film world in the late 1920s as a bit-part actor. The 
first film he directed, “Douro, Working River” (1931), was a short 
silent documentary about the riverside bustle in his hometown.

After a number of other short documentaries, he made his first feature, 
“Aniki-Bóbó” (1942), a children’s parable often considered a precursor 
of neorealism, then struggled for decades to get projects approved by 
the government-run film commission.

During that time, Mr. Oliveira operated a farm and vineyard that his 
wife, Maria Isabel, had inherited. He would come to regard this forced 
absence from filmmaking as an important incubation period. “I had time 
for a long and profound reflection about the artistic nature of cinema,” 
he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2008.

Between 1931 and 1970, Mr. Oliveira made only two features and a handful 
of shorts. But as the Salazar regime entered its final days — it was 
overthrown in 1974 — he wasted no time putting his long-gestating ideas 
into practice.

Mr. Oliveira became a pre-eminent auteur among European critics with a 
series of films made between 1971 and 1981 — “The Past and the Present,” 
“Benilde or the Virgin Mother,” “Doomed Love” and “Francisca” — that 
came to be known as his “tetralogy of frustrated love.” Set in different 
periods (from the early 19th century to the 1970s), based on plays or 
novels, all deal with obsessive passions that are inevitably thwarted by 
external forces.

All four of those films, and a vast majority of Mr. Oliveira’s oeuvre, 
were based on literary or theatrical texts. Two of his favorite sources 
were contemporary Portuguese writers, Agustina Bessa-Luís and José 
Régio. Among the classics he adapted or excerpted were works by 
Flaubert, Beckett, Ionesco, Dostoyevsky, Paul Claudel, Madame de 
Lafayette and Camilo Castelo Branco.

Mr. Oliveira’s fondness for aristocratic settings, grand philosophical 
themes and long, faithful literary adaptations — “The Satin Slipper” 
(1985), based on an epic Claudel play, runs seven hours — earned him a 
reputation as a high-culture mandarin.

But there was also a perverse plainness to his method. He developed a 
cinema of long takes and static tableaus, an aesthetic so elemental it 
verged on the primitive. He extended this stripped-down approach to the 
acting. He cultivated a stable of actors — among them Luís Miguel 
Cintra, Leonor Silveira and his grandson Ricardo Trepa — who typically 
delivered their lines with minimal expressiveness, sometimes blankly 
facing the camera.

Mr. Oliveira said his goal was simplicity, a directness meant to focus 
the senses. “I search for clarity in my films so that deeper thoughts 
may be more easily perceived,” he said in 2008.

The final phase of Mr. Oliveira’s career was also his most prolific. 
 From 1990 to 2010 he made a feature almost every year. This remarkable 
rate was a testament not just to his vitality but also to the 
resourcefulness of the producer Paulo Branco, who worked with Mr. 
Oliveira on 21 features and often secured financing through partnerships 
with French and Spanish companies.

In the 1990s, Mr. Oliveira’s international profile received a lift when 
he started making films in French and supplementing his repertory of 
Portuguese stars with bigger art-house draws like Catherine Deneuve, 
Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli and John Malkovich. “The Convent” 
(1995), a theological mystery in French, English and Portuguese starring 
Ms. Deneuve and Mr. Malkovich, was his first film to be released in the 
United States.

In his later years, Mr. Oliveira became increasingly preoccupied with 
history, and in particular with the rise and fall of the Portuguese 
empire. This theme surfaced, with varying degrees of directness, in 
films like “Word and Utopia” (2000), “The Fifth Empire” (2004) and 
“Christopher Columbus — the Enigma” (2007). The most ambitious of these 
“ ‘Non,’ or the Vain Glory of Command” (1990), recounts a wide swath of 
Portuguese history by flashing back to the empire’s bloody conquests and 

Mr. Oliveira also dwelled more on personal history in his autumnal 
phase. Mortality loomed large; several of his films featured elderly 
protagonists that were clearly meant to be surrogate figures. In “Voyage 
to the Beginning of the World” (1997) Mr. Mastroianni (in his final 
role) played a filmmaker named Manoel. In “I’m Going Home” (2001), Mr. 
Piccoli played an actor steeling himself for an old age without his 
loved ones.

But for all the wistfulness and serenity that characterized his late 
style, there was also sometimes despair, as in “A Talking Picture” 
(2003), a history lesson that culminates in an apocalyptic prognosis for 
Western civilization.

Mr. Oliveira started receiving lifetime achievement awards after he 
reached his late 70s — from the Venice Film Festival in 1985 and the 
Locarno Film Festival in 1991. These honors would come to seem 
premature, as he showed no signs of slowing down. (Venice presented him 
with another lifetime award in 2004.)

There was renewed interest in Mr. Oliveira’s work when he turned 100, 
not least because he was the only major filmmaker in the history of the 
medium alive and working in his centennial year. Repertory houses around 
the world mounted retrospectives of his films in 2008, and that year he 
was awarded a Palme d’Or for his body of work at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2010, the year he turned 102, he fulfilled a longtime ambition by 
making “The Strange Case of Angelica,” based on a script he wrote in 
1952 and initially intended as a portrait of melancholy and anxiety in 
the aftermath of World War II. The updated film, a limpid ghost story 
about a dead bride who comes to life before a young photographer’s 
camera, touches on 21st-century concerns like climate change and global 
financial crisis. It turned out to be one of Mr. Oliveira’s most 
well-reviewed movies.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Oliveira is survived by two sons, Manuel 
Casimiro and José Manuel; a daughter, Adelaide Maria; and several 
grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Mr. Oliveira continued to make films almost to the end. Between 2010 and 
2014 he directed a number of shorts, as well as segments in two 
multidirector anthologies and a feature, “Gebo and the Shadow” (2012), 
with a cast including Claudia Cardinale and Jeanne Moreau. Reviewing 
that movie for The Times, A. O. Scott called it “an intriguing minor 
composition by a shrewd and skillful master of the art.”

There is also one film by Mr. Oliveira still to be released.

His “Visit, or Memories and Confessions” was made in 1982. It is said to 
be about a house where he used to live. Mr. Oliveira stipulated that 
because of its personal nature, it could be shown publicly only after 
his death.

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