Manoel de Oliveira, the oldest living director, died Thursday at the age of 106. The Portuguese filmmaker spanned the history of cinema, as he began in the silent era as an actor in the 1920s and crafted such documentary shorts as “Douro, Working River” (1931) before moving into feature filmmaking in the 1940s. Twice the Venice Film Festival awarded him Special Golden Lions (1985 and 2004) for his subversive films whose satires and re-workings of literary classics including “Madame Bovary” and “Faust” subjected him to harsh censorship.
He came into his own in his 60s after the 1970 fall of the repressive regime in Portugal. He became a regular on the film festival circuit, screening 11 films at Cannes starting in 1981, five in Competition, and won the Jury prize for “A Carta” in 1999. In 2008 he accepted the Cannes Palme d’Or for his body of work.
Oliveira went out with a bang in his 11th decade with his final three films, the Portuguese-French coproduction “Gebo and the Shadow” (2012), ghost fable “The Strange Case of Angelica” (2010) and the voyeuristic romance “Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl” (2009). He would have been 107 this December.
According to the New York Times, Oliveira left orders that his final unreleased film, autobiographical “Visit, or Memories and Confessions,” which was shot in 1982, could only be screened for the public after his death. Let’s hope it turns up at Cannes.
Four of his films, including “Eccentricities,” are streaming on Fandor; obits and clips rounded up below.
Almost as old as cinema itself, Mr. Oliveira often seemed like a filmmaker out of time, or perhaps of many times, a 20th-century modernist drawn to the themes and traditions of earlier eras. He was known for ruminative, melancholic, often eccentric movies about grand subjects like the nature of love and the ever-present specter of death.
Oliveira was obviously making up for lost time. He had found no favour under the regime of António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, when he was condemned to years of silence and inactivity. After the dictator died in 1970, Oliveira still found it difficult to make films, being charged with the sin of “elitism” under the socialists. As a result, he had to wait to fully explore his principal themes of desire, fear, guilt and perdition, underscored by the very Portuguese sentiment of the “consolation of melancholy”.
At time of writing, Oliveira was in the process of making a feature called “The Old Man of Belem.” It was being mooted for 2015 festival berths this year, and hopefully its creation was advanced enough that it will become his last cinematic will and testament. Those who are up for a bit of a treasure hunt may want to see out 1975’s “Benilde or the Virgin Mother,” a very strange fantasy/horror/historical drama about a woman who claims to have been impregnated by some known being.