Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Strange Case of Angelica

I'd honestly really rather not harp on the age of this movie's writer/director, Manoel de Oliveira, but, man... One hundred and two. Granted, he was likely only a hundred - a hundred and one, max! - when this film was shot, but he's been working since then, with his movie scheduled to come out this year shooting in Brazil. I can't really imagine traveling to work when I'm that old (to be quite honest, I can't necessarily imagine being that old without some cool advances in medical science) - but check out this picture at IMDB - that's a crazy-healthy-looking guy for 102.

O Estranho Caso de Angélica (The Strange Case of Angelica)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement)

It is customary, when discussing master filmmakers still producing movies well past when people in most industries have retired, to comment on how they are still vital and what an inspiration it is that they still love their art so much. That seems insufficient for Portugal's Manoel de Oliveira, who was probably hearing things like that twenty-five years ago. The Strange Case of Angelica was made in its writer/director's 102nd year, and is not a farewell (he's traveling to Brazil for his next feature). Nor should it be - this film is a stately but enjoyable work likely informed by its creator's age but which stands well on its own.

The Angelica of the title (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) is beautiful, recently married, and even more recently passed away. Her distraught mother (Leonor Silveira) wants one last picture of her daughter, so in the middle of the night, she calls for a photographer. What she gets is Isaac (Ricardo Trepa), a Sephardic Jew who is stunned not only by the girl's beauty even in death but by how, when he looks through the camera's viewfinder, Angelica's eyes open and she smiles at him. He's soon smitten by a girl he can only have in his dreams, and his erratic and obsessive behavior soon becomes a great concern to his landlady Justina (Adelaide Teixeira).

The Strange Case of Angelica is a period picture, though it does not announce itself as such. While the camera used by its protagonist being loaded with film is likely not the only detail tying it to the 1950s visible to a knowledgeable, attentive viewer, de Oliveira seldom goes out of his way to emphasize when and where the action takes place. The result is a movie with an unusually timeless feel - there is an uncomfortable formality to Angelica's family (not to mention barely-veiled anti-semitism) that lands somewhere between slightly exaggerated and what was normal for the time that can put the viewer on edge, for instance. Though taking place in the past, not being firmly rooted there makes it somewhat easier for its central themes to resonate today; indeed, some might say that its message that focusing on things past and unattainable fantasies is seductive but ultimately self-destructive has never been more relevant.

Full review at EFC.

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