Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Movie Review: Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl

Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl ***Directed by: Manoel de Oliveira.
Written By: Manoel de Oliveira based on a short story by Eça de Queirós.
Starring: Ricardo Trêpa (Macário), Catarina Wallenstein (Luísa), Diogo Dória (Francisco), Júlia Buisel (D. Vilaça), Leonor Silveira (Senhora), Luís Miguel Cintra (Himself), Glória de Matos (D. Sande).

Manoel de Oliveria is over 100 years old and is still making movies. Perhaps that’s why his Eccentricities of a Blond-haired Girl is just over an hour long – he was afraid that he wouldn’t survive making a longer movie (although, since he finished this film, he has also made another one). But the real reason seems to be that 63 minutes is the exact right length of time for this movie. I cannot tell you how many movies, even at 90 minutes, feel like they have been stretched to reach that running time – afraid that if they were shorter, people would demand their money back. But the story behind Eccentricities is perfectly realized in its short running time – sometimes less is more.

Oliveira is working on a short story by Portuguese writer Eca de Quieros. Although the original story took place in the 1800s, Oliveira sets his in the modern day, although very little is done to actually “update” the material. This, combined with the way Oliveira shoots the film – at a distance, never in close up, and often with his characters staged looking in the same direction instead of at each other – gives the film a strange, almost theatrical feel to it.

The story is relatively simple. Macario (Ricardo Trepa) is an accountant who works for his uncle. One day when working, he looks out his window and sees a beautiful blonde, young woman in a window across the street. He immediately falls in love with her, and through a friend arranges to meet her – which only adds to his love for her. She seems to perfect, so beautiful, and her constant waving a Chinese fan, adds to her exotic appeal. He wants to get married to her right away – and so does she – but his uncle forbids it (why, we never know, perhaps just because he can, or perhaps just because if he doesn’t, there is no movie). He quits his job and sets about making himself financially independent so he can marry the girl – Luisa (Catarina Wallenstein). But in the film’s final scene between the two of them, he discovers what kind of person she really is – and is horrified.

The film is really about the objectification of women – how the accountant (like all movie accountants it seems – my profession is not kindly looked upon in the movies) lacks any real imagination or understanding. He refuses to see Luisa as a person throughout the film – she is simply that beautiful girl with a fan that he is in love with – until that final scene. Even then, he doesn’t deal with her as a person – doesn’t try and figure out what she did or why, but simply walks away from her. But there is more to it than that as well – it comments directly on the current economic situation in strange ways, and is overall a portrait of man who is so lost in his own ideals that he cannot comprehend reality.

The final scene of the movie is the only one where we get to see Luisa as a real person – not through the eyes of Marcario, but how she herself sees things. It is a scene of devastating simplicity, as she simply slumps lower and lower until the film ends.

The film recalls the work of Luis Bunuel – but it more subtle in its surrealism that Bunuel was. From the framing device of telling his tale of love and loss on a train (which recalls That Obscure Object of Desire), to the way he shots, and edits, the film is clearly paying homage to that master filmmaker. Like a film by Bunuel, it is playful and fun. Yet at the same time, I must admit that I think the film works better as an intellectual exercise than as a film unto itself. It is a film that is constantly engaging, and yet I’m not sure it leads us to where Oliveira wants us to go. Still though, films like this are so few and far between, that I am grateful that the filmmaker has not yet retired – like any other 100 year old did decades ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment