Friday, 4 July 2008

Manoel de Oliveira - oldest active filmmaker

Visita ou Memórias e Confissões, a film by Manoel de Oliveira made in 1982 is an interesting adjournment in the illustrious and continuing career of the world's oldest working filmmaker who was born in Portugal 1908. Visita ou Memórias e Confissões is a documentary reflecting on the experience of Manoel during Salazar's cultural cringe, I haven't seen, most people haven't seen it. The reason for this is that the film has been marked to be only shown publicly after the director's death. What a concept for a film, but understandable in Manoel's case as there is a lot of sensitivity regarding Salazar's reign in Portugual.

I began thinking of what films I could possibly make that could be marked until after I had kicked the bucket, and sadly none came to mind, and the ones that did were all trifles, then I thought perhaps this was the answer of filtering out the rubbish on our screens if more filmmakers shelved their efforts until after they threw in the proverbial towel. Ahem.

Back to Manoel however, I did have the opportunity many years ago to experience a Manoel de Oliveira celebration of works held by the Melbourne Cinémathèque. Most of his work I enjoyed very much, of course they opted not to sure films like Le Soulier de Satin which goes for nearly seven hours. I had seen Party before but they didn't screen that either, from memory, or did they? It was a long time ago and his films are difficult to come by.

One aspect of his work that may surprise people is his frequent casting of John Malkovich in such films as I'm Going Home, The Convent and A Talking Picture.

John Malkovich in "Um Filme Falado"

John Malkovich in "O Convento"

John Malkovich in "Je rentre à la maison"

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich?

This post is not about John Malkovich but now it is and I'm always interested in actors who stray from the "normal" career paths like John who works a lot with European directors, and particularly when they are Portuguese as there aren't many around and what ones there are sit on the margins of popular cinema.

But back to Manoel. To think that from the age of seventy, Manoel de Oliveira has averaged one film per year since 1978 to this day, and yet some of us, well most of us would be lucky to make two in our average lifetimes.

Interesting to note in our age where directors, particularly young directors demand every gadget under the sun in order to equip them to make movies Manoel's perspective on the process harks back to the days of craftsmanship as revealed in this interview here that appeared in The New York Times ...

Mr. Oliveira maintains that it is the faces that matter. 'There are faces that lend themselves well to certain characters. If you're wrong in that choice, maybe the performance will still work technically, but something will be missing.'

'The next most important thing is the position of the camera,' he continued. 'For my first five or six films, I did the photography myself. Now, I can tell by looking at the camera what it sees. I never look through the viewfinder.' Nor does he use the video playback monitors that are now standard on film sets.

Green what? You can almost hear him say, "Oh Green Screen, that's another name for a beautiful and lush location is it not?" Or, "Green Screen? Are yes Yupingfeng San, the ancient Chinese Medicine I have handy on set in case my actors come down with the Flu".

His latest (one of) film in pre-production is Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loira is based on an Eça de Queiroz story, I have read José's A Ilustre Casa de Ramires and have a copy of O Mandarim which I plan on reading sometime soon. I would really like to see Manoel de Oliveira make a film of The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis as written by José Saramago based on one of the many heteronyms created by Fernando Pessoa. Imagine that! A work meshed by three great masters Oliveira, Saramago and Pessoa - oh and of course John Malkovich can have a role in it if he likes.

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