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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Rest in peace, Manoel de Oliveira, the oldest film director in the world

Manoel de Oliveira, the oldest working director in the world, passed away three days ago, on the 2nd of April. He was 106.

Portugal paid its final tribute to him yesterday before his burial.

I have written about him on 2012 to commemorate his 104th birthday. In my post, I wrote about my experience of trying to catch his film at Berlinale 2009.

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.

Screening of Manoel De Oliveira's ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND-HAIRED GIRL. At the time, Manuel De Oliveira was 101 years old.
Posted by Edmund Yeo on Tuesday, August 21, 2012

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. :(

So forever, this would be how I remember Manoel de Oliveira. With a tinge of regret, and some hint of humour. Just like his films.

I never had the chance to catch a Manoel de Oliveira feature film on the big screen, but I have twice seen his works in an omnibus film, both in Japan.

The first was the Recontre Unique (Sole Meeting) segment in the 60th anniversary Cannes Film Festival omnibus, Chacun son Cinema (To Each His Own Cinema). Although I didn't exactly follow his segment at all because I couldn't keep up with the Japanese subtitles due to my rudimentary Japanese skills. His segment was a silent movie. There's a pope. Also accompanied by Debussy soundtrack.

Manoel de Oliveira - Rencontre unique by Moonflux

Alas, still no English subtitles.

The second was his rather funny segment that concluded the HISTORIC CENTER (Histórias do cinema) omnibus film, which featured him and three other directors: Aki Kaurismaki, Pedro Costa and Victor Erice.

Therefore, the very first Manoel de Oliveira film I really saw in its entirety was THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA, which is arguably his most famous film internationally during the past decade. The film was whimsical, but also coloured by undercurrents of melancholy. A protagonist who falls in love with a ghost, and finds himself perpetually disconnected from the rest of the world, his fascination is only with the past.

I couldn't believe that it was a film made by a director who had lived for more than a century, but then, perhaps it was because he had lived for a century that the emotions of the film felt genuine, and you could suspect that the photographer protagonist (played by his grandson, Ricardo Trepa) was a surrogate for Oliveira.

Oliveira had lived through it all: Silent movies. German Expressionistic cinema. Gone With The Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca. The French New Wave. Antonioni. Fellini. Tarkovsky. Kubrick. American New Wave. Taiwan New Cinema etc. His career spanned 75 years. His first film was a silent documentary, his last few films were shot digitally.

It blows my mind when I realize that many of the long-departed legendary directors I mentioned above were actually even younger than Oliveira!

For me, he's an inspiration. To think that he became supremely prolific beginning from the 1990s (after he reached his late 80s) and was averaging at least a film a year. There wasn't any slowing down, he just continue doing what he loved, for cinema. What a life!

Manoel de Oliveira, the world's oldest working director (and a great one!) had just passed way at the age of 106. Rest in peace. Probably flying through the sky like Angelica did.
Posted by Edmund Yeo on Thursday, April 2, 2015

Manoel de Oliveira is indeed an inspiration. Being able to make films until you are 106, films feeling increasingly youthful. 106 is indeed too early.
Posted by Edmund Yeo on Thursday, April 2, 2015

In the past few days since his death, there had been many great tribute articles about him which made me wish that I've seen more of his works. I can always start now. The beauty of cinema is that there will always be countless great films from past, present and future waiting to be seen.

For me, what lingered more in the past few days were videos him dancing.

Manoel de Oliveira - Chaplin Dance from Cinema Guild on Vimeo.