Who better than Portugal’s dean of film directors, Manoel de Oliveira, could portray his native Oporto to celebrate its status as the European Capital of Culture for 2001? Filled with music and narrated by Oliveira in an autobiographical vein, “Oporto of My Childhood” focuses on the city’s past, not its present. It is a carefully designed exercise in memory, seeking out things that no longer exist. The director’s cult status will earn this charming, erudite, hourlong docu fest play and brisk sales to pubcasters.
Stripped of the intellectualism that sometimes obscures Oliveira’s work, pic reconstructs scenes from his childhood. One night at the opera, young Manoel (played by his own grandson) watches a play in which a girl (Maria de Medeiros) surprises a old burglar (’20s actor Estevao Amarante) who sings fado folk songs, in a clever reflection back and forth in time. There is the marvelous Oliveira pastry shop where he overheard dandies discuss women; and his first love, who died of tuberculosis. The home of artists, poets and bohemians, Oporto provided the inspiration for his first film in 1931 as well as his 1956 comeback, “O Pintor.”