A Titanic figure, Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira (1908–2015) made its debut in the era of silent cinema and completed its final feature at the age of 105.
Not every one of Olivera’s many films, the majority of which were made after the age of 65, can be considered legendary – he was a filmmaker given the experiment. But there are a good many, and streaming in a digital restoration from “Francesca” (1981) Film at lincoln center, Is one.
A two-hour and 45-minute period, set with the country in an unseen political upheaval in Portugal in the mid-1850s, the film tells a tale of “sick-omen obsession” (a Victorian term suitable for crazy romantic love). Oliveira constructs an esoteric, unbalanced triangle consisting of a beautiful and innocent English woman, Francesca “Fanny” Owen, a charming and beautiful Portuguese aristocrat, Jose Augusto, and cynical writer Camilo Castello Branco.
Although a 19th-century novel, “Francisca” is actually Meta 19th century; Instead the setting looks natural, with Olivera rendering it strange. The film is a pistachio adaptation written by feminist author Agustina Besa-Luis. Branco is a real man, one of Portugal’s greatest writers, but Fanny and Jose Augusto (played by Teresa Menezes and Diago Doria) are larger-than-life imaginary. The actors who play the English fairy and her Byron Cade are taller than their actors and – coming to the celestial earth – tower over the weak Branco
“Francesca” is both classical and postmodern, a cross between a succulent Visconi period piece and the stylistic expression of “The Cabinet of Dr. Calgary”. Oliveira provokes the past as if to reconnect dinosaurs with a handful of bones. Revolve in different planes of existence. Jose Augusto is projected on a society ball, a wax statue amidst a riot of masked revelations. More than once, the aristocratic heroes stumble by singing unnoticed peasants by performing their social tricks.
Oliveira is a frugal filmmaker and master of camera placement. In a single shot, several sequences come out, such as documenting your own artifact. Fanny’s dramatic line read alternately with deadpan grand gestures. Expelled from Fanny’s family home, suggesting it is named Paraiso (Paradis), Jose Augusto twice drove his horse to Camilo’s room to report the news.
Mystery Spreading. On the eve of her marriage to Fanny, Jose Augusto receives a packet of letters written by Fanny, courtesy of Camillo. Reading them, he runs into a cold rage – which can only be regarded as a pure plot device. Neither the material nor the original recipient of the fatal letters are revealed. (Nor, it should be said, is the exact nature of the couple’s perverted, self-defeating desire.)
“The soul is a vice,” Fanny proclaims at one point, and, after escaping with Jose Augusto, he dreams of Camilo calling his rival evil and threatening to take away his soul. gives. Much of the film means that the writer has stage-managed the entire narrative. He has the last word – or rather, Oliveira does.
For all his doomy descent into darkness, “Francisca” ends in Bose, where letters are received to Jose Augusto, who recovers the gay music of the masked ball that opens the film.
Available for streaming of the film at Lincoln Center beginning November 12; filmlinc.org.
Rewind is an occasional column, covering revived, restored and redistributed films.