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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Manoel de Oliveira turns 104 today.

Today (December 11th) is the 104th birthday of Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira. This blows my mind.

He is currently the oldest active director in the world (unless the Spanish director Miguel Morayta, who is year older than Oliveira and retired since 1978, suddenly chooses to come back to make another film) and has remained prolific since he made his first film in 1927. (he became exceptionally prolific since 1990, when he would make at least one film every year until now)

Again, it blows my mind when I realized that Oliveira is actually older than the likes of Orson Welles, all of the French New Wave directors, Akira Kurosawa, Frederico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman... When GONE WITH THE WIND came out, Oliveira was already 30. When Orson Welles made CITIZEN KANE, Oliveira was already in his mid-30s. Oliveira was 50 when a group of French guys made films that spark what we now call the French New Wave.

I can go on and on with this, but I will share with you an Oliveira tale.

Frankly, I only knew about Oliveira when I was at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009. They were giving him a Berlinale Camera award (a lifetime achievement award), and was also screening his film ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND-HAIRED GIRL. (It's a 1-hour film)

Intrigued and curious (a lifelong virtue of mine, I humbly believe) to see the film of a then-101 year old director, I braved through the snow of Berlin city after going through the workshops of the Berlinale Talent Campus (which I was attending), hopping into one train after another, and then running around, trying to find the cinema.

I was lost, but I met a young nice couple who offered me a ride (no kidding) to the place. (Yep, I hitchhiked my way to a Manoel de Oliveira screening at Berlin Film Festival, this is tale I can always tell my kids, if they don't end up being ignorant and unappreciative to the arts)

I reached the venue just in time for him to give a speech before the screening. They also presented that Berlinale Camera award to him during the speech. Despite my exhaustion, I was absolutely delighted, elated, joyous that I was able to personally witness such a monumental event! And I was sitting on the third row! With, presumably, the media! (it was the only seat left)

I snapped a photo.

Manoel de Oliveira. Berlin Film Festival 2009

(Notice the Berlinale Camera trophy behind him.)

After that, Oliveira left, and the film began.

I marveled at the crisp digital cinematography. The film started in a train, a train conductor walking about clipping tickets in an immaculately-composed shot. The sound of the train was rhythmic, hypnotic, soothing...

... and so, I fell asleep.

(Okay, I woke up halfway during a scene when Debussy's ARABESQUE NO. 1 was played on a harp in the background... which lulled me back to sleep again)

Yes, all the hassle that I went through and I ended up sleeping through the screening. I woke up at the thunderous sound of applause.

The end credits were rolling. I was staring in horror, realizing that I had missed the entire bloody film. It really wasn't something I was proud of. So embarrassed by my own weakness that I sneaked away before the post-screening Q and A session began. I don't think I snore when I sleep, but what if I did? What if I had been snoring the whole time, to the utmost annoyance of those who were sitting next to me? I didn't want to take any chances.

And so, I missed the opportunity to catch my very first Oliveira film on the big screen. :(

I paused a little after writing the above sentence, because I wanted to make sure what I said was accurate (about never seeing his films before). But after some quick search, I found out that I have indeed seen an Oliveira work on the big screen prior to the Berlin Film Festival. That was 2008, when I went to see the omnibus film "CHACUN SON CINEMA" (TO EACH HIS OWN CAMERA) in Eurospace, Shibuya. For his 3-minute segment, "Rencontre unique (Sole Meeting)", I wrote this in my previous post:

"Dialogue-heavy, I couldn't keep up with the (Japanese) subs again. So I didn't understand this, sorry."


It took another two years before I could finally watch my very first Manoel de Oliveira film, and it wasn't even on the big screen. His much-beloved 2010 film THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA, which was a very unique experience that reminded me of Hong Kong films of the 1980s because of a man's romance with a ghost. There is something so whimsical about the film that you cannot believe it is by a 100+ year old director! (Look at his films, and compare it with the films of, say, the late Theo Angelopoulos)

Two weeks ago, I saw HISTORIC CENTER (Histórias do cinema) at Tokyo Filmex, an omnibus film with contributions by Oliveira, Aki Kaurismaki, Pedro Costa and Victor Erice. (I'll write about it later if I can)

And next year, he will have another film coming out.

Clint Eastwood (who is only 82) has said that he wanted to be like Oliveira, to never stop making films.

Yeah, I think world cinema is blessed to have someone like Manoel de Oliveira. To have a body of work that spans nine decades, it's just wonderful.