The last in Oliveira’s Tetralogy of Frustrated Love is the third I’ve seen (Benilde, you’re next). Either this is the most eccentric of the bunch, or I’ve just forgotten how eccentric Past and Present and Doomed Love were. Each scene is a single-take diorama, and whole dialogue exchanges are repeated from different camera setups. Memorably in a late scene, the camera is between the characters, so each one speaks directly to us. Rigidly composed, more subtly dreamlike than Ruiz. Very writerly dialogue, “We live torn to pieces, in search of our bodies scattered all over the earth.” Also my second movie of the weekend with operatic singing, Balzac mentions and an unbalanced, punitive love triangle.
Camilo (Castelo Branco, the Doomed Love writer!) and Jose Agusto are both after “Fanny” Francisca. She is Teresa Menezes of the Non, Camilo is Mário Barroso with the thickest mustache (better known as a cinematographer, he’d shoot four of Oliveira’s 90’s films) and Jose Agusto is Diogo Dória with a droopy mustache (his first for MdO, he’d become a regular). Jose is with Fanny’s sister Maria, but he steals Fanny from his “friend,” eloping with her in the night (she falls off her horse immediately), then spends no time with her, leaving her alone in their new house. When Fanny dies, Jose thinks he’s to blame, becomes morose and obsessive, orders an autopsy and keeps her heart in a jar. Jose dies under suspicious circumstances soon after. Camilo was in his late twenties at this point – it’s set during the year he wrote Mysteries of Lisbon.
In 19th-century Portugal, a rising young novelist falls in love with the daughter of an English army officer, provoking the obscure envy of an aristocratic friend, who resolves to marry the girl himself and make her suffer for her betrayal. The baroque plot is presented in a series of single-take tableaux, which do not attempt to embody the drama as much as allude to it, leaving the dense and passionate feelings to take shape entirely in the spectator’s mind. Oliveira limits himself to showing only what can truly be shown: not the story but a representation of the story, not the emotions but their material manifestations as they have crossed the decades.
Carson Lund in Slant:
Filming in immaculately dressed and lit rooms and separating his single-take sequences with matter-of-fact title cards that address, often with subtle wit, the actions about to take place, de Oliveira presents Francisca’s narrative progression as something of a foregone conclusion. The experience of watching the film feels akin to surveying a series of museum paintings and periodically pausing to digest the museum label beneath them; at times, de Oliveira will even play a scene twice, back-to-back, from two different angles, reinforcing the stuck-in-time nature of the storytelling. In the place of narrative transformation and suspense is a deadpan air of judgment that recalls the amused omniscience of Stanley Kubrick’s depiction of Enlightenment-era narcissism, Barry Lyndon, which charts another roguish gentleman trying to rise above his station via a marital engagement.
Glenn Heath Jr. called it “one of the greatest films about wasted time.”