Helmer to meet pope

De Oliviera, Benedict XIV to break bread

LISBON — The world’s oldest active filmmaker, de Oliveira has been tapped to represent Portugal’s artistic community and address Pope Benedict XVI, ne Joseph Ratzinger, during his visit to Portugal. The trip’s purpose is a visit to the religious sanctuary of Fatima, which has its annual pilgrimage on May 13, commemorating the sighting of the Virgin in 1917.

Thr godfather of Portuguese cinema, Manoel de Oliveira (101), will meet the godfather of the Catholic church.

Oliveira was educated at a Jesuit college in Galicia during the dictatorship era, later confessing that the “Jesuits were excellent teachers, but I was a lousy pupil.”

Lisbon’s assistant bishop D. Carlos Azevedo praised him as someone who “reproduces Christian values through a unique oeuvre.”

He has often explored religious themes in his films, including the enigmatic “The Convent,” starring John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve, and “Word and Utopia” about the teachings of 17th-century Jesuit priest Antonio Vieira.

The helmer has even directed a tongue-in-cheek three-minute short, “Sole Meeting,” about an imaginary encounter between Pope John XXIII (Duarte de Almeida) and Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev (Michel Piccoli). That short unspooled at Cannes in 2007 as part of the “To Each His Own Cinema” compilation film.

Some commentators ventured that Oliveira’s fellow countryman, novelist Jose Saramago — a lifelong Communist, Nobel prize winner — should have been invited to address the Pope.

But that would be a possibly upsetting choice to the papal guest, as Saramago recently suggested that the Bible is “a manual of bad habits” and portrays God as “cruel, jealous and unbearable.”

Renowned for his cinematic mind-teasers and crafty sense of humor, Oliveira keeps his own religious beliefs — like the details of his upcoming speech — close to his chest, but he recently quipped, “If I could, I would have already bought a ticket to heaven.”

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