Manoel de Oliveira has unofficially reached what we could call the yarn-spinning era of his dotage. Don’t let the anecdotal nature of the now 102-year-old Portuguese auteur’s most recent films fool you, however. His rigor and precision—and canny sense of how to lull and then delightfully frustrate an audience—remain intact. A mite longer than his previous two films released in the U.S., Belle toujours and Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, yet still enchantingly nugget-like, The Strange Case of Angelica takes as its central concerns nothing less than the spiritual nature of being but still manages to be pithy and casual. He always makes big existential questions seem like simple riffs; the longer, all-encompassing work they’re part and parcel of would of course be his entire, astonishingly long oeuvre. Strange Case, with its musings on death and the transcendent nature of art, would seem like the perfect elegy for this most elder statesman of cinema—if not for the fact that every other film since his 2001 portrait of an aging actor I’m Going Home, could also be called just that.
Strange Case is a sweet tease and sometimes a more formal, approaching academic, meditation. In it, a character experiences a supernatural phenomenon and a romantic obsession at once, and it sends his life into a state something like a desperate waking dream. It’s a film about cinema, unsurprisingly, but in the sense that the art form’s scientific properties are perhaps as important as its spiritual ones, it’s a surprising one. The premise is simple: a dead woman appears to come to life again within the camera lens of a photographer. That his character is Jewish, and the resurrection seems, at least superficially, Christian in nature, only adds to the puzzle. Metaphysics can’t be explained by such arbitrary matters as religion, after all. Read Michael Koresky’s review.