Manoel de Oliveira talks about this lengthy career
At 101 years old and counting, Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira has clearly broken a few records: He’s the oldest working helmer, the only one still active who began directing during the silent film era, and the most senior of auteurs present on the Croisette with a new feature, Un Certain Regard opener “The Strange Case of Angelica” (Jean-Luc Godard is a distant second at 79).
While de Oliveira’s filmography dates back to a series of documentary shorts made in the early 1930s, his most prolific period began when he turned 80. Over the last 20 years, he’s directed 28 features and shorts, working with such talents as John Malkovich, Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. And though his films are never box office smashes, they often attract arthouse crowds both Stateside and in Europe, something he hopes will happen with “Angelica.”
“It’s a project I actually wrote back in the 1950s, during a period where I hadn’t been able to make a film for at least 14 years,” the helmer told Daily Variety. “When my producer, Francois d’Artemare, brought up the idea of making it now, I was interested in updating the script to talk about contemporary issues.”
Indeed, the film presents an almost mystical mix of past and present in its story of a lone photographer (Ricardo Trepa, the helmer’s grandson) who, when taking pictures of a beautiful, recently deceased woman (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), is able to see into her spirit. While characters are dressed in period garb, they discuss things like global warming and the economic crisis, and a few scenes include digital effects — a first for the helmer.
“They bring me back to my roots, to the films of Georges Melies,” he said.
Though de Oliveira says his methods have evolved over the last eight decades (“from filming actions and objects to trying to film ideas and thoughts”), he admitted that the Portuguese film industry is not necessarily open to his type of work, and that it’s as difficult as it’s always been to get a project financed.
In order to make “Angelica,” he was forced to work fast and efficiently on a small budget — no small feat for someone who has lived for more than a century.
“It took one month to shoot, and one month for the CGI. The latter I’m particularly proud of: If not everyone likes my movie, I hope they at least love the effects.”