23 outubro 2009

The first film by a 100-year-old director

Film buffs have an opportunity to witness a unique cinematic document today at a screening of what is almost certainly the first film by a 100-year-old director.

Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl, showing in The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival, is brief, beautiful to look at and wilfully baffling.

It has also been saluted by critics across Europe as proof that Manoel de Oliveira is still in sound creative health at an age where people struggle to follow modern films, let alone make them.

Oliveira, who turned 100 last December, has been a director since the silent era. His first film, a documentary, was shown in 1931 — the year that Bette Davis made her screen debut, Salvador Dalí painted his melting pocket watches in The Persistence of Memory and George Orwell was living rough, researching what became his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London.

Today’s screening is a rarity. Only four Oliveira films have been released in Britain — others are available on DVD, but only with French or Spanish subtitles.
In Europe, however, he is a star who has made regular appearances at film festivals and is regarded as an important, if decidedly eccentric, figure in the world of cinema.

Jonathan Romney, a film critic who is also one of the London Film Festival’s programme advisers, said: “You could certainly call him a master but not in a grand way. He’s one of those great marginal figures, speaking from a place where cinema crosses over with literature or theatre. Not a single one of his films could be by anyone else. When his films really hit a note they are absolutely extraordinary. They go their own way. They can be very direct and concise and very mischievous — he has a great sense of humour.”

François d’Artemare, the producer of Eccentricities, said last night that Oliveira’s longevity was down to his work ethic, his lifelong physical vigour — on a film shoot in April two years ago, he took daily swims in the Atlantic — and a diet that still includes “a glass of red wine and vegetable soup every day, together with a lot of fish and a lot of ice cream”.

He added: “Film-making is his life — when he stops shooting, he’s going to die. When I see him at his home, I always think that the next film will not work but then when he’s back with the crew, or at a festival, he’s perfect and full of energy.”

The son of a well-to-do industrialist in northern Portugal, Oliveira had already made his name as an athlete and racing driver before he enrolled at a acting school, bought a 35mm camera and persuaded his father’s accountant to operate it. His debut, Labour in the River Douro, was a silent 18-minute documentary about the changes wrought on Portugal’s rural culture by modernity.

During the dictatorship of António Salazar, Oliveira was imprisoned by the secret police for ten days and then took a 21-year sabbatical from feature film-making. He re-emerged in the 1960s and is now enjoying the latest of late career flowerings, having made roughly a film a year every year since the early 1980s.

They include a highly theatrical period drama running at almost seven hours set in the Spanish Golden Age, called The Satin Slipper (1985), and much more recently a sequel to Luis Buñuel’s classic Belle de Jour, entitled Belle Toujours.

The director’s slippery, obscure style, coupled with the mystique accorded him because of his age, have always divided the critics. Another Portuguese director, the late João César Monteiro, wrote an article attacking “the fossil of Oporto” back in 1974, when Oliveira was a sprightly 66.

Among the actors who have starred in his films are John Malkovich and Michel Piccoli, who played major parts in both Buñuel’s Belle de Jour and Oliveira’s Belle Toujours.

Eccentricities is sprinkled with references to age. The girl of the title is described as “so young and fresh” and the plot revolves around the varied ways that the older generation thwart the attempts of two lovers to be together, against a backdrop of “these modern and turbulent times”.

However, as a starting point for appreciating cinema’s great survivor, it has one extra virtue: it is only 63 minutes long.

“Oliveira has made some of the most gruelling films in European cinema,” Romney said. “This is not one of them. It is a perfectly formed gem.”

Oliveira is already working on a new film based on a story he wrote in the 1950s. It is another love story, this time about a photographer who falls for the soul of a dead young girl.

Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl is showing at BFI Southbank today. 

Age shall not wither them
Akira Kurosawa (1910-98)
Directed until the age of 83
A godfather of Japanese film; works by Kurosawa had a profound affect on Western cinema, particularly films by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, who said: “One thing that distinguishes Akira Kurosawa is that he didn’t make a masterpiece or two masterpieces. He made, you know, eight masterpieces.”
Alain Resnais (1922-)
Still directing at 87
A central component of the Nouvelle Vague, or New Wave, cinematic movement. Despite having a long career with many successful pictures, Resnais is best remembered for his early films that tackled memory and trauma: Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
Nic Roeg (1928-)
Still directing at 81
Famed for his use of the “cut-up” technique in which a narrative is rearranged to give a less conventional meaning, Roeg directed his first film in his early forties and has since produced one of the most impressive bodies of work of any British director. His major films include Walkabout (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Billy Wilder (1906-2002)
Directed until the age of 88
In a career that lasted more than 65 years, Wilder, was nominated for 15 Oscars, winning seven, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988.
Born near Vienna, in the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he went on to embody the American dream, directing classics including The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Some Like it Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960)
Agnès Varda (1928-)
Still directing at 81
An institution in French cinema, Varda, left, made her first commercial film in 1956. Regarded as one of the pioneers of the French New Wave, she has spent most of her career collaborating with members of the Rive Gauche movement, a left-leaning political and artistic group.


Sem comentários: