The Strange Case of Angelica
The new film from master filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira, The Strange Case of Angelica is a magical tale of a young photographer who falls madly in love with a woman he can never have, except in his dreams. Late one night, Isaac is summoned by a wealthy family to take the last photograph of a young bride, Angelica, who mysteriously passed away. Arriving at their estate, Isaac is struck by Angelica s beauty. But when he looks through his lens, the young woman appears to come to life. From that moment, Isaac will be haunted by Angelica day and night.
THIS SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY includes the first film by Manoel de Oliveira, the rarely-screened 1931 silent masterwork Douro, Faina Fluvial, presented in a new 2K restoration.
Cinema Guild presents Manoel de Oliveira’s The Strange Case of Anjelica (which the director apparently conceived over 50 years ago) on Blu-ray in a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer on a dual-layer disc. The film is listed as being in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but it technically isn’t. There is a slim set of black bars at the top and bottom but a thicker set along the left and right sides, and if I was a betting man I’d say the actual ratio is probably between 1.66:1 and 1.70:1.
Though the black bars around the image are a little distracting (and I’m not sure why the film is presented this way) the image as a whole is still a fairly pleasant one if not spectacular. It’s a bit soft throughout, not overly so, but details don’t seem to be as crisp as they could be, and I was disappointed that black levels look washed out, losing details. But the print is flawless, the image is generally bright, and there still manages to be some depth to the overall picture. Again it’s pleasing, but not much more than that.
The disc comes with both a Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track and a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track. For this review I only really listened to the 5.1 presentation. This is an incredibly quiet film with a minimal amount of dialogue throughout, but it sounds crisp and clear. The music sounds absolutely gorgeous, somewhat creeping to the rears, and the film presents a couple of louder moments, all involving modern day machinery, that will catch the viewer a little off guard. These moments also creep into the rear speakers.
In general it sounds very good, though doesn’t take full advantage of the surround channels, everything sticking primarily to the fronts. Still, the presentation suits the film and sounds absolutely crisp.
Cinema Guild put together a great little edition here, an excellent primer for those (like me!) completely unfamiliar with de Oliveira. To start things off they give us de Oliveira’s first film, Douro, Faina Fluvial, a silent feature from 1931. Those doing the math when they notice The Strange Case of Angelica was made in 2010 will of course realize the director has to be around 100 years old, 102 to be exact. As to the 19-minute film it reminded me of Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice (though it’s probably only because I saw it not so long ago) as it simply documents moments, specifically workers along the Douro River (the English translation of the title is Labor on the Douro River.) The footage moves from those working along the river to footage from the docks. It’s a briskly edited piece though oddly relaxed at the same time with some sharp imagery. The area is also, as I understand it, the same one where Angelica was filmed.
The presentation itself is sharp, presented in 1080p, and the source materials are in wonderful condition (in some ways I was more impressed with its presentation than the main feature’s.)
The disc also sports an audio commentary by film critic James Quandt, who almost immediately comes out on the defensive for the film to my surprise initially, though after looking up some reactions to the film I can now see why he felt this way. This was of course my first time with a de Oliveira film so I can’t base it on his previous work (other than the short included on this disc of course) but I found it a strangely hypnotic and beautiful film about a man who just didn’t fit or even belong in this modern world. Yes, the director lingers on things longer than most people would like, and Quandt mentions this throughout, but there was something charming, even engaging about the things he lingers on, like a cat watching a bird in a cage. Apparently some find this style, which sounds to have been adopted recently, doesn’t hold over well with some fans but Quandt defends it, and explains it and why he admires the director’s style and his recent work. On top of this he talks about de Oliveira’s career in general, giving a great primer on the director, and he of course examines this film, looking at the many literary and film references found throughout, Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus probably being a key one. He talks about the main character and his possible relation to the director, and the mixing of time periods found here. It’s a very academic track and is scripted, but Quandt is very passionate about the subject matter and, despite a few dead spaces, keeps it a lively and engaging piece. Excellent commentary and definitely worth giving a listen.
After this is a 2010 interview with the director in a 35-minute piece called Absoluto. De Oliveira—who I have to say looks really good for someone who would be about 101 in the segment—has written down his thoughts and reads them back to us for the first bit, and then appears to answer questions asked at that moment later on. The reading of course makes it a little stale but the director, who obviously still has all of his wits, keeps us engaged with his thoughts and comments. The piece primarily revolves around his current feelings about the state of cinema, which he doesn’t seem to have much hope for. He singles out modern movies like Avatar, which he gives a sort of back-handed compliment, and blames them for distracting audiences and those within the industry from real filmmakers. He mentions the filmmakers he admires, which includes Godard, Bresson, Vigo, Dreyer (whose name he briefly forgets), Costa, and many others, and then talks a little about Angelica. It starts out almost a little bitter I felt but loosens up as it goes. In the end it’s a fascinating interview with an absolutely fascinating director.
The final large supplement is a 1992 documentary called Oliveira l’architecte, a 63-minute piece from an episode of the French television program Cinema de notre temps. In the piece we get a sort of history of the filmmaker, mixed in with interviews of the man, as we go over his early work as an actor and his eventual move to directing and then his work since then. A good bio but the coolest part is very late in when Oliveira shares a story which obviously inspired The Strange Case of Anjelica. Another great inclusion.
The disc then concludes with the film’s theatrical trailer and then a short booklet includes an essay by Haden Guest on the director’s late life work.
In all I found we got a fairly comprehensive set of supplements that also proved informative and relatively entertaining. A very nice job.
The transfer was decent if not great but as a whole I was quite fond of this edition, with the supplements offering an excellent crash course on director Manoel de Oliveira. The Blu-ray comes with a very high recommendation.