Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015)

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015)

#76 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Dec 20, 2019 6:37 pm

No decent DVD of the uncut Vale Abraão, right?

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015)

#77 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Dec 21, 2019 12:02 am

Vale Abraão may be the most successful attempt I've seen at capturing the feel of reading a novel to the medium, and yet there are moments purely cinematic about it (my favorite being the shot of Leonor Silveira spinning around in the swivel chair). It's an interesting choice to make the ‘female mystery’ character the main one, and to take the narrative a step further to make her mysterious even to herself. The ideas of the film center around existential ambivalence toward impermanence and control: chasing happiness and ego-boosts through others to achieve reprieve from life's banalities that force unwanted introspection to the intangible, beauty as a blessing and a curse when applied socially, and the inability to perceive anything wholly as the trigger to internal disharmony.

Ema resents complacency because it evokes a feared perception of invisibility, and so she sets her sights on only the most extreme of emotional pulls: desire. She wants to desire and wanted to be desired, a role that is impossible to remain fixed but that she nevertheless seeks to validate her identity and stabilize the fleeting emotional security that allows her to unbind from the constraints of her objectification within her patriarchal culture. Ema embraces such objectification to issue herself control when no other systemic force will aid this process of self-actualization, and yet she remains alone, divorced from herself, just as she is fragmented from the society in which she lives. In MO’s milieu, there appear two kinds of people: those who become complacent, apathetic, and passive; and those who fight such a state. Ema fights through manipulation as a strength, for the film maturely refuses to pass judgment on her for embodying this resilience. She doesn’t appreciate the people she encounters who don’t mirror her position, like the men who are disinterested in her despite acknowledging her beauty.

This beauty is a fascinating conception that even MO seems puzzled by and in awe of; it’s at once a tool of pragmatic social success and ego empowerment and also a spiritual enigma of inexplicable wonder, a humble pleasure in a gift from the heavens for mankind. And yet this beauty is also reduced to meaninglessness in the sense of holding no objective weight or fastened subjective contentment for Ema or anyone else. The value of its worth is zero when applied to anything lasting or deep. Ema’s defining quality is both a holy spectacle and a vacuum of significance. This film seems confident with presenting impermanence as the only objective truth in this world before fragmenting even this concept into subjective perspectives that cannot unify but which must exist as divorced parts of the whole.

This differentiation is seen as inherent, predetermined, and serves as the prevention of intimacy or fusion, but is key for the development of the self. That the self must be isolated in a social world is the irony through which MO sees our corporeal stage for being, in addition to the ineffable abstract nature of moral, spiritual, and existential comprehensions that populate our experiences. What I love about MO that feels unique to him, is how he presents these enigmas not as quandaries to be solved or to feel a particular way about, but as facts, and when viewed without a specific temperament, the peripheries of possible attitudes and fleeting emotional and philosophical stances towards these enigmas themselves can become impermanent and accepted as such. MO does not impress upon his audience even his own subjective interest as a coating to the layers, but simply presents the layers themselves as a complex organism eager to be explored in the beauty, ugliness, pleasures, discomfort and all that lie between those extremes that encompass the nature of the cosmos. The third-person omniscient narrator of his novel-film could be god itself, but even the introspective knowledge about Ema and the other characters’ thoughts and feelings is distanced and loose enough to be MO’s unreliable narrator himself making assumptions based on the impenetrable surfaces of his and Agustina Bessa-Luís’ created mysteries; or, even more interestingly, could it be that god itself is not as omniscient as it is defined? Perhaps MO is showing that even an all powerful perspective will still miss something between the cracks.

Somehow this concept gives me an overwhelming sense of warmth and comfort, but I can see how it could also dysregulate or even horrify another. Does Ema’s dysphoria stem from being a former rose, stripped of any bearings of identity by life’s wind, to use her metaphor near the end of the film? And if so, is this destiny or something one can overcome with an alteration of mindset or spiritual acceptance? I choose to believe that Ema’s story resembles something at once unique and universal. We all have our character assets that mirror as defects as well, and must grapple with life on life’s terms. The actions we take help us shape ourselves, but the experiences outside of our control make up the majority of our lives. This film, to me, is about what that feels like, the struggles and liberations accompanying that process, and the ultimate surrender each person must make, whatever the form that takes.

There is an ubiquitous weight felt throughout this film, emphasizing history with many people declaring the present as possessing an ennui hopeless to overcome due to the decline of civilization. However, I only see a world in which change occurs and a race of people whose balance is obstructed by change, in essence a continuous disruption of harmony that produces discomfort, coping with an immense moving system that is representative of the unattainable dimensions of our largest structure of macrocosm, and so vast and impenetrable that our characters feel they are drowning in its vagueness masked as suffering. This overwhelming sense of thwarted belongingness might swallow some of us up in the process of such existential crises, though this dissembling of the self that Ema experiences is hardly representative of her entire life, in which her emotional journey was anything but static. This is where the unreliability of the narration comes in full force, whether her own insights are misjudged or if god is. I don’t think this is a cynical film, but I suspect I’m in the minority there. Just because a story doesn’t have a happy ending doesn’t mean the story wasn’t beautiful or worth telling, and the same can be said of life itself. After all, doesn’t Ema say herself that it is an honor to suffer amongst the beauty of the world? It seems to be the honor itself that we choose on whether to accept or not, a much more humanistically respectable position than acceptance over the nature of life, which would be a state of psychologically weak defensive ignorance rather than the self-aware philosophical plain MO affords his characters.

The ending to this film is oddly one of the most tranquil. The last lines of this story come from a writer, “None of this matters, but no one imitates better than me, a beautiful life.” Transforming artifice into authenticity, and nihilism into serenity and gratitude, is the cherry on top of an already perfect film.

Stefan Andersson
Joined: Thu Nov 15, 2007 1:02 am

Re: Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015)

#78 Post by Stefan Andersson » Fri Jan 03, 2020 7:53 am

In 1957, André Bazin met Oliveira in Porto. The meeting was briefly documented in Cahiers du Cinéma No. 75, and is also commented on in this editorial, from Cahiers No. 711, May 2015:
https://www.cahiersducinema.com/produit ... -mai-2015/

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therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015)

#79 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Jan 03, 2020 11:19 am

Stefan Andersson wrote:
Fri Jan 03, 2020 7:53 am
In 1957, André Bazin met Oliveira in Porto. The meeting was briefly documented in Cahiers du Cinéma No. 75, and is also commented on in this editorial, from Cahiers No. 711, May 2015:
https://www.cahiersducinema.com/produit ... -mai-2015/
Thanks Stefan, interesting read! I think it's a perfect summary of MO that the following passages dub him as both a realist and a magician who signifies illusions, two labels we often think to be mutually exclusive but actually become one in the same with MO.
The meeting is doubly magical: firstly because 'it makes a definitive stitch between the Notebooks and Oliveira right on the spot of founding realism; and you have to imagine that Oliveira is then almost ten years older than Bazin. Bazin is 39 years old and Oliveira 48. Secondly because he makes Oliveira a “neo-realistic” before the hour, the Portuguese filmmaker never decidedly in the hour of cinema history, always arriving or before or after. The disparate and late career makes us switch to a form of science fiction - he who was born on December 11, 1908 and died a hundred and six years later, in activity , on April 2, 2015.
The “monumentality” of the work, hence the sometimes distant respect with which some people look at it, is nothing but an illusion: the work is labile, elusive, clever, deeply ironic. It is not made of stone, like a building, or of marble, but of multiple appearances of the living. It is made up of "hunts", "acts", "strange affairs" and "singularities".
For MO, this elusive distance, artifice, and irony are all elements of true realism in acknowledging the limitations of perspective and revealing the multiple facets of life through such distance, which often signals disconnect but here signifies that as natural as well as the only method to achieve a bridge between perspectives and lenses into other aspects of life, which can really only be done through art (specifically literature and film). These "multiple singularities" involve the viewer too. I think of the repetition in Francisca where characters repeat some lines twice in a scene, and the movement may have progressed at this point between people onscreen as well as our own perspective shifting in deciphering the meaning behind each singularity - the same language producing different perspective, emotions, analysis. This itself is a rather ironic approach, and insinuates the layers to MO's skills in the medium as well as his complex comprehension of how art and life operate together and apart.

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