Treasure Island (1985, Raoul Ruiz)

Ruiz made a series of films in the mid-1980’s involving sailors, pirates, children, islands, treasure and magic. There’s an explicit Treasure Island reference in Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), and in between the similarly-themed City of Pirates and Manuel on the Island of Wonders, he made the movie Treasure Island, and wrote a book called In Search of Treasure Island.

As I learned from The Golden Boat, I’m not a big fan of Ruiz’s English-language films (actually Klimt was good). Treasure Island is full of fascinating work, especially when the plot comes together at the end, but while watching all I can think of are the language problems. Most actors (not Martin Landau or Anna Karina) are badly dubbed. Dialogue is imperfectly translated and conveyed, and performance styles are inconsisent – I tried to overlook it, but it’s too clunky to ignore. Little things make me think Ruiz wasn’t at the dubbing sessions (paella is pronounced “pai-YELL-ah”). And it’s cool that Jean-Pierre Leaud was cast, but distracting to hear him speak with no trace of French accent.

Ruiz’s Treasure Island isn’t an adaptation of the novel… not exactly, anyway. After a while it starts to follow the story when young Jonathan’s father dies while his seaside home is being visited by Landau (who asks to be called The Captain), then after Jonathan runs off he’s picked up by a sailing shoe salesman named Silver.

Some mutinies and mercenaries later, it comes out that this is an annual reenactment LARP, performed with a different Jim Hawkins every time. Captain Silver is the professor who invented the game, an “expert on game theory” (maybe not coincidence: when Silver gave his real name I wrote it as Omar Amiralay, which is also the name of a Syrian filmmaker who was active at the time). Jim/Jonathan sees through the ruse when he realizes during a gun battle that the fighting is fake, so he goes off alone, commandeering the ship with only Israel Hands (who soon dies) aboard. I start to lose track of the characters as the roles shift (The Dead Father returns as the ship’s doctor, for instance) – shades of the re-enactment identity-blending of The Territory. Even the narrator, who we assumed all along to be Jim/Jonathan, is revealed to be another character, who kills J/J offscreen at the end.

Jim and Helen:

Martin Landau, who dies, comes back to life, declares Jim is his son during an earthquake, and jumps out a window:

It’s fun to analyze the movie afterwards, to go through the screen shots and read reviews – maybe a less painfully-dubbed version exists in another country and will come out someday (argh, a restored print played Paris last month – the poor dubbing remains, and the movie has lost 15 minutes). Anna Karina is very good as J/J’s mom, anyway.

Karina and Helen:

Don’t think I got all the characters straight. Multiple possible captains – besides Landau we’ve got Silver (Vic Tayback of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), the French Captain (Yves Afonso, who appeared with Karina and Leaud in Made In USA), and Mr. Mendoza (Pedro Armendariz Jr. of Walker in a Yankees hat). Mendoza is obsessed with a different ship-mutiny novel, Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. There’s the doctor / Dead Father (Lou Castel, Bruno Ganz’s driver in The American Friend) and J/J’s aunt Helen (singer Sheila). Crabb (Michel Ferber) imprisons J/J, Ben Gunn shoots diamonds from a slingshot. That leaves Israel Hands (Jean-Francois Stévenin, the immortal Max in Le Pont du Nord), Squire Tim Moretti (Jeffrey Kime, the doomed Jim in The Territory), and back on shore before the adventure began, Leaud as a writer (and possibly the narrator), and the creepy Blind Man (Charles Schmitt). Jim/Jonathan himself is regular Ruiz star Melvil Poupaud, returning from City of Pirates.

The island scenes (second half of the movie) were filmed on the coast of Senegal, where Katy is now.

Back on land, The Blind Man with Karina:

Played in Cannes in 1991 alongside Yumeji, Boyz n the Hood, Hearts of Darkness, and three African films. Rumor is that Chris Marker assisted Ruiz in some way. A four-hour cut was planned, but I don’t think it was completed (nobody claims to have seen it).

Ruiz in conversation with J. Rosenbaum:

Treasure Island was a complete misunderstanding, because the money was there at the beginning and then suddenly the money was gone [not there anymore]. So I had to reduce the budget, and do it like a kind of B movie. This movie starts very strangely, with a good atmosphere, and then suddenly we are in a typical TV serial, because it was shot in continuity, so you can see the point at which the money starts to vanish.

From Michael Goddard’s book:

As [the film’s introductory] television transmission is interrupted by a power cut, we are informed that its tale of a coup d’etat, diamonds and treachery continued in Jim’s head. In other words while we may be aware that stories originate elsewhere and come to us from the outside it is we who continue them as they take possession of our imaginations; so before even introducing any of the elements of Treasure Island, the key theme of possession by prior stories that make up not only Ruiz’s film but in a more implicit way the original novel itself is already established.

As in the cartographic game in Zig-Zag this is a game played in real spaces with real lives and deaths but it is no less fictional than the novel on which it is based, while the latter is increasingly read not as fiction but rather as an instruction manual for how to operate successfully in the Treasure Island game.

JW McCormack:

For one thing, the pirates don’t look much like pirates, more like guerillas, revolutionaries. Jim’s friends the Doctor and the Squire appear without much fanfare. Other characters, like participatory academic Aunt Helen, are without an analogue in the book. The Oedipal strains of the Disney version have gone haywire, as everybody claims to be Jim’s father and nobody seems terribly concerned with treasure. But as Jim says — or, rather, as Jean-Pierre Léaud says, since we learn three quarters of the way through that he has literally run away with the script and has been telling the story from Jim’s point of view — “I didn’t see why we couldn’t just carry on without the treasure. It was an adventure anyway.”

But alas, no reconstruction is perfect: in perhaps the funniest joke in the movie, Silver, disappointed that the action has fallen so far from the book, echoes the sentiments of any reader who has ever been outraged by a movie straying from its source: he fires a machine gun into the air while shouting “It was not written! It was not written!”

Ruiz interviewed by D. Ehrenstein:

When I reread Treasure Island recently I discovered that the structure was stronger than the material. The way Stevenson tells the story is so remarkable that it could be about anything – pirates, kidnappers, whatever. We are surrounded by stories that are like houses we can enter. We play amidst these stories, sometimes being involved in two or three of them at once. In one you’re the hero, in another you’re a secondary character. These scripts are the society in which we live – if you want to be a sociologist. It’s a notion I feel more and more. This has been expressed in many ways – by Stevenson, by Orson Welles, Borges, and many others – this notion that certain stories have the structure of dreams. For those stories it’s as if the cinema had already been invented.

Horse Money (2014, Pedro Costa)

Can’t believe this is on netflix streaming… at least it has an absurdly low rating, so some things still make sense. Of course I expected to like it more myself, having enjoyed Colossal Youth, but maybe after The Assassin two hours of murky stasis wasn’t the best choice. It’s difficult to watch, but unlike The Assassin and Hors Satan, the more I think and read about it afterwards, the more fascinating it becomes.

Ventura moves slowly, his hands shaking, talking to ghosts. His nephew spends years at an abandoned factory, waiting to get paid. Vitalina reads aloud from letters and government documents. Finally, a stone-faced ghost-of-christmas-past revolutionary soldier locks Ventura in an elevator until the movie mercifully ends.

Maybe I need to surrender my Cinema Scope subscription and go back to watching Puppet Master sequels? Whether that’s true, I definitely need to not watch streaming movies anymore. It killed me that I messed up the audio track when transferring The Assassin to the downstairs TV so the ever-present wind noise sounded staticky, but that’s nothing compared to the horrors netflix wreaked upon the inky black images of Horse Money.

M. Sicinski:

The Fontainhas films have become progressively forward and discursive about certain aspects of their intellectual make-up (especially the colonial histories between Portugal and Cape Verde) that were largely submerged in Bones, and wholly implicit in In Vanda’s Room. These social and political questions, particularly as they intersect with race, rebellion, and personal trauma, emerged in fairly evident ways in Colossal Youth, although some viewers may still have been confused (or merely put off) by Costa’s choice to expound these issues through poetry and incantation rather than conventional dialogue … Much of Horse Money consists of Ventura navigating a hospital stay, and his depressive, somnambulistic behavior connotes several things at once: traumatized memory, historical burden, as well as the creep of disorientation or dementia. But above all, Costa stages Ventura’s performance and “presence” as being fundamentally out of joint with contemporary lived time. This is a man who hovers between present and past, serving as an avatar for events and experiences that (as per Faulkner’s infamous dictum) are not even past.

Costa’s interview in Cinema Scope is fantastic:

It was a very difficult film to make, very devastating. [Ventura] shook a lot. He really is sick and ill and he really tries to remember, and trying to remember is not the best thing. So I think we did this film to forget, actually. Some people say they make films to remember, I think we make films to forget. This is really to forget, to be over with, and I hope the next film will be a good thing.

Costa on his digital camera:

It’s much more difficult to get anything that looks interesting at all because you have to fight against so much stupid stuff that’s put inside the cameras, and you feel it when you go inside the cinema, if it’s not Lav Diaz or Béla Tarr or Godard or Straub or something, everything’s the same. And it’s not their fault, but at the same time you should fight a little bit against that.

Doomed Love (1978, Manoel de Oliveira)

Simao loves neighbor Teresa and Teresa loves Simao, cousin Balthasar also loves Teresa, servant Mariana loves Simao, Joao loves his daughter Mariana, and all these loves are doomed, doomed, doomed. Simao and Teresa’s families hate each other, Simao kills Balthasar and is sentenced to prison, old enemies of Joao kill him, and finally Teresa wastes away in a convent, Simao dies on a prison ship and Mariana jumps into the ocean during his sea burial.


So it’s quite unhappy, and reminiscent of Mysteries of Lisbon since they’re by the same author, but also an idiosyncratic movie, with different stylistic tics than the Ruiz. Some notes I took:

– Mirror dissolve to scene of mythology
– Lots of mirrors
– Narrator, rushing through backstory
– Tadeu stomps around yelling insults but all we hear are his footsteps
– Night scenes are just a black screen with subtitles
– Letters are filmed, narrated in their entirety, or their writer will recite into camera
– Flatly delivered dialogue
– Sometimes narrator tells us what would easily have been shown
– Actors stand by patiently waiting for the narrator to finish, like in a Peter Watkins movie.
– Narrator describes Simao killing Balthasar right before it happens

Simao kills Balthasar:

Set in the early 1800’s. Each episode opens with Simao’s younger sister Rita summarizing the previous episode into camera. There are other characters and events – Simao’s brother Manuel, who runs off to Spain with a married woman, and Simao’s mom, a former queen’s lady who misses the splendor of her old life and pulls strings to get her condemned son preferential treatment, and Joao, who gleefully murders Balthasar’s men in order to help Simao – but these are secondary to the whole doomed-love thing.

I used to think of convents as good places before this and Mysteries of Lisbon, The Devils, Mother Joan of the Angels, The Nun, Les Anges du peche, Don’t Touch The Axe, Black Narcissus, and so on. There’s little religion in the convent where Teresa is committed by her family – she’s immediately told not to trust the mother superior, and all the nuns run around gossiping about each other.

There have been at least eight film adaptations of Doomed Love, plus there’s a mysterious 2006-07 series on IMDB with Branco as writer, listing all the Doomed Love characters as well as Father Dinis, Angela and Eugenia from Mysteries of Lisbon – a Branco Universe crossover?

Mariana with Simao:

J. Rosenbaum called it “The Masterpiece You Missed” in his review, reprinted in his collection Placing Movies, which I read at the beach thirteen years ago and I’ve been seeking this movie out ever since. I’m still seeking it… hopefully a better copy surfaces on video someday. I think there are different versions, and I saw the television (color) miniseries. The great Oliveira died between my watching this and finally writing it up, but I’ve got about forty more of his films to watch, so his art lives on.


Intricate dovetailings of narration and dialogue produce some elegant displacements and overlaps in and on the sound track. When the heroine’s father shouts at her in close-up, the sound of his voice ceases at the precise moment that the male narrator announces that the (off-screen) daughter doesn’t hear him because she’s left the room. Much later, the imprisoned hero responds in person to the narrator’s off-screen report of Mariana’s blacksmith father’s announcement (visible but not heard) that his daughter is delirious — a scene much easier to follow than to describe.

Watching this classically wrought example of controlled madness for 270 minutes … I was reminded once again of the battles between narrative and nonnarrative cinema that used to be waged in this room. (Today the battles are over, the warring tribes shipped off to separate schools or summer camps, and a mongrel like Doomed Love, doomed by its own integrity, has to walk the night without the sponsorship of either ghetto.)

Duarte de Almeida of City of Pirates and Past and Present as the ship captain:

P. Cunha in Senses of Cinema:

In Portugal, the film’s critical reception was very hostile. It was also devastating for its director, who was accused of wantonly producing the most expensive Portuguese film made with public subsidy at a time of serious financial crisis. Oliveira was also criticised for moving away from the naturalistic language mandated by television, undermining the legacy of author Camilo Castelo Branco, and not being concerned with the reality of the class struggle Portuguese society was undergoing in the aftermath of the socialist revolution. The debate about Oliveira’s work was so intense that it was even discussed in the national Parliament and inflamed arguments about public financial support for Portuguese cinema.

Doomed Love belongs – along with [Past and Present, Benilde and Francisca] – to the “tetralogy of frustrated loves”, a series of four films that are adaptations of works by some of Oliveira’s favourite literary authors (Vicente Sanches, José Régio, Camilo Castelo Branco and Agustina Bessa-Luís).

Our Beloved Month of August (2008, Miguel Gomes)

A semi-documentary that eventually focuses on scraps of stories: Paolo, who jumps into the river every year during carnival, and a couple of young lovers (actually cousins). Other pieces of the movie include the filming of the movie itself, camera turned upon its own crew, Gomes tryin to explain why he’s not making the film he was supposed to make, and a series of concerts, letting awful pop songs half play out before abruptly cutting away.

I’m so in favor of the semi-doc, fiction/doc blend, experimental narrative, etc, but couldn’t get into this one, not nearly as much as Tabu. It’s kinda beloved though, and won a prize in Vienna.

M. Peranson:

Organically constructed and impressively humble, Our Beloved Month of August shows the fantastic, mythic elements present in everyday life, and the mundane realities present in filmmaking, presenting the two as links in a neverending chain of dominoes.


The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira)

Isaac (Ricardo Trepa, star of Eccentricities) is called to a rich estate in the middle of the night to take final photographs of a just-deceased girl (Pilar Lopez de Ayala, star of In the City of Sylvia), whose image he falls in love with, then it starts coming to life in his photographs (if MdO can embrace digital sfx then anybody can). Isaac spends his days photographing field laborers and his nights dreaming of Angelica, to the concern of his meddling landlady Justina. Excellent shot at the end: sick Isaac rises trance-like from bed, pushes the doctor aside then collapses, as his spirit continues out to the balcony and flies away with Angelica.

Mouse-over to hallucinate like Isaac does:

There are few indications that the movie is set in any recent decade until we see cars in the last half hour. This is by design: old-fashioned, simple-living photographer Isaac seems overly interested in old-fashioned things. I’m not sure of the significance of his being Jewish, but it’s mentioned a lot.

Film Quarterly explains:

As a Jew, Isaac is a stranger to the community, but he’s fascinated by Portugal’s religion, dying agricultural traditions, and quasi-mystical, late-romantic literature. (The Strange Case of Angelica grew out of a film Oliveira wanted to make in the 1950s, dealing with Jews who migrated to Portugal after World War II.)

I didn’t spot Leonor Silveira, but trusty ol’ Luis Miguel Cintra (Inquietude, Non) stays at the same boarding house. That’s him above with Ana Maria Magalhães of The Age of the Earth.

Mouse-over to awaken Isaac from his dream:

Douro, Faina Fluvial (1931, Oliveira)

The DVD guys have kindly included Oliveira’s first short, documenting workers on the river (as Isaac documents them in the fields – but not precisely). He pulls shots in and out of focus, gets in every striking angle he can muster, edits still and motion shots together in jarring ways. Definitely some staged situations. A truck driver, distracted by a passing plane, bumps an ox cart which then runs over a young man. The man is okay, but starts beating the oxen in anger until a policeman shows up, and he and the beasts make up.

I only played a few minutes of the very good (so far) commentary, instead watched an Oliveira monologue. He is against television, pornography and violence. He is for fantasy, Melies and Avatar. He methodically lists all the well-known great filmmakers, saying they’re the ones who maintain proper separation between the private and public spheres – an ethical discussion that I didn’t follow, then methodically lists the exact same filmmakers a few minutes later as if we didn’t just go over this. Cinema as an art should be “a reflection of the more critical, richer, graver and higher aspects of the human condition.”

Tabu (2012, Miguel Gomes)

A prologue, long first section, long second section – with only the middle part having sync sound. Bookend segments have spoken narration and certain (probably dubbed/foleyed) sound effects from the scene and seem better/more magical than the talkie half of the movie.

1. In Africa, depressed widower colonialist hurls himself into the crocodile-infested river. “You may run as far as you can, for as long as you like, but you will not escape your heart.”

Ghost of the colonialist’s dead wife:

2. In Lisbon, aging activist Pilar (Teresa Madruga of Silvestre) would seem to be our main character, but the possibly-senile gambling-addicted woman next door takes up much of her attention and curiosity. Aurora isn’t so nice to her maid Santa, is never visited by her children, who support her via a monthly check. Aurora takes a bad turn and sends Pilar to find a man called Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo, a producer of Doomed Love and Magic Mirror) who arrives too late. After the funeral, he has lunch with Pilar and Santa, begins to tell them his story, after which we never see anyone from the movie’s first half again.

Aurora and Ventura:

3. We spend a year in Mozambique, with month-by-month title cards. Young Aurora (Ana Moreira of Teresa Villaverde’s films) was a famed hunter, a lone wolf who finally married, but soon started an affair with neighbor Ventura (Carloto Cotta, who played Father Dinis’s father as a young man in Mysteries of Lisbon).

Aurora and Ventura:

Their affair gets more passionate and reckless, until finally they run away and she kills the man who discovers them together. She’s dragged back to her husband. Ventura tries to claim that he shot the man, but an anti-colonialist movement takes credit for the murder, so they’re both off the hook – but they never see each other again.

Reverse Shot:

Gomes, even from his earliest shorts (which he’s dubbed musical comedies, though the music is generally piped in rather than sung, the humor dry as a bone, rather than broad) has evinced a willingness to prioritize images over dialogue, songs over the spoken word, and, above all, has maintained a sense of play entirely his own. … Tabu steals its name and chapter titles from the mystical South Pacific feature directed by F.W. Murnau, another filmmaker in thrall to the magic of movies, and produced by Robert Flaherty, the other guiding pole of Gomes’s cinema. That he’s reversed the trajectory of that earlier film, moving from “Paradise Lost” to “Found” suggests that this new Tabu is up to more than just simple homage.

He plays in a band, she listens on the radio, both crying


This is a film in which a sullen colonialist transforms into a reptile in a tone-setting prelude. This is a film that answers its hour’s worth of affectingly humdrum urban drama with a lulling, marvelous, deeply dreamy backend. Yet Tabu’s surrealism—like its romance, its comedy, its historicism, its everything—is retained with a light touch. For all its wistfulness, Tabu never feels like a formalist, postmodern, post-cinema put-on. Gomes never feels like he’s trying to pull anything off. And so, in turn, he manages to pull everything off.

Pilar and Santa:


I think I make films to play music. For instance, Tabu starts with Pilar watching a movie. But that sequence was only put at the beginning in the editing room. That story of the explorer and the ghost was like a radio soap that Aurora was doing. I shot her in the studio doing Foley effects (sounds synched to the action) and the sequence was supposed to come in the second part of the film. I didn’t know where, because we didn’t have a script for the second part. I shot many sequences not knowing if they would fit in the film or which part they would fit into. In fact, when Pilar was going to the cinema—and in the script, she went three times, in the film only two—it was intended that you would never see the screen but would hear a song. Maybe this is my emotional link with cinema, that I wanted to materialize it by not showing whatever Pilar is seeing, only portraying it as a song. For me as a viewer of cinema and a listener to music, I wanted to have the same response to the sequence as I would if I were hearing a great song, not being moved by the lyrics but by a more abstract feeling one has in response to music.

Inquietude (1998, Manoel de Oliveira)

“Men were vulgar. They wanted to forget their history. Only funerals seemed true, as they passed streets of dirty houses, like tombs for the living.”

Almost an anthology film – three stories with no overlapping characters, set maybe in the 1920’s or 30’s. An adaptation of three separate works – a fact I didn’t catch in the opening credits. Very strange, but as magnetic and thrilling as Non.

The Immortals

A burst of music over the opening, then the first line, from a father to his son, is “Kill yourself.” Both father (Jose Pinto of Abraham’s Valley) and son (Luis Miguel Cintra, star of Non) are the most famous scientists of their respective generation. But the father is feeling washed-up and forgotten, and urges his son to die at the height of his fame.

Time out for a picnic with Marta (Isabel Ruth of The Uncertainty Principle), an old student/flame of the father’s, then back to the apartment. The son won’t be convinced, refuses to swallow cyanide, but agrees to fix his father’s curtain rod over the back door, at which time his dad pushes him over the balcony, then jumps after, yelling about immortality.

I’d noted that the movie felt like theater, the old man playing towards an imagined crowd instead of his son, in a single location except for the cutaways to the picnic and a downstairs neighbor’s place as the men fell to their deaths – and it was theater after all. A half hour into the movie, a curtain raises, and we begin to follow a couple groups of friends who have been watching the play, never to return to the scientist family.


Square-jawed Diogo Doria of Non and his friend David Cardoso are paying as much attention to a pair of courtesans/prostitutes in another box as to the play. Cardoso meets the girls and reports back, having claimed Gabi (Rita Blanco) as his own, and later, Doria starts spending much time with Suzy (the ever-present Leonor Silveira), though he remains rational when he sees her out with other men.

All along, I’m suspicious that this will be another play, even though the atmosphere has changed – it’s more realistic, mostly shot in long takes (as was the first episode), but still held at a strange remove, with ellipses of undetermined lengths between scenes.

Suzy: “I have wealthy lovers, dresses by the best seamstresses, everything, except happiness.” Eventually she’s seeing Doria less often, though they exchange letters. In the end, Suzy has died in hospital during an operation (“she said: it’s a small thing”), but he keeps writing the letters. Cardoso stops by to visit his pathetic friend, and tells him a story.

Mother of the River

Young Fisalina (Leonor Baldaque, star of The Portuguese Nun) is in love with Ricardo Trepa (who played her husband in Christopher Columbus, The Enigma). But it’s not that simple: there are customs, rules, meddling parents and a small, stifling village. So she sneaks off to see the Mother of the River (Irene Papas, greek singer in A Talking Picture, also star of Z). “I love a boy with pretty teeth. I do not know how to marry him… curse me, but set me free.” So the mother takes Fisalina through a candlelit cavern to the edge of the water.

The next day Fisalina notices her fingertips are golden. She hides them from everyone, but no longer feels urgent towards her boy, and seems at peace with the village. During a candlelight festival, the light shines off her fingers and she is discovered, a witch! “Fisalina, reckless, fated, has chosen to live beside the deep water, where she will wait a thousand years before swapping lives with someone else.”


Trepa, despondent:

Oliveira has returned to these writers: his A Caixa was a play by Prista Monteiro (The Immortals), and he’s done at least four major films based on stories by Agustina Bessa-Luis (Mother of the River).

D. Kehr says the segments are “all centered on themes of death and eternity and presented sequentially as social comedy, existential tragedy and lyrical epic,” but Rosenbaum, more correctly I think, says it’s “the theme of existential identity” that unites the stories.

NON, or the Vainglory of Command (1990, Manoel de Oliveira)

“A terrible word is the NON”

A film with a stagy, heightened atmosphere in which you plainly see things happening though you somehow come to believe that these things are not happening. It’s a feeling I’ve had before with Oliveira, and with some of my favorites by Ruiz, Bunuel and Resnais, a slippery strangeness which I suppose most critics call surrealism.

Obvious predecessor to A Talking Picture, a movie full of narrated history lessons ending with a moment of violence, history’s revenge on the present. Portuguese soldiers on a troop truck, out defending the colonies, chat about politics. Lt. Cabrita (Luis Miguel Cintra, scary uncle in Pedro Costa’s O Sangue) tells them stories of their country’s past defeats, which are played out for us in full costume using the same actors as in the truck.

Two of my fave soldiers: at left is Manuel, Diogo Doria of Manoel on the Island of Wonders

Flashback, B.C. 130’s: Viriato, a successful defender of Portugal (then Lusitania) against the Romans, an icon of Portuguese independence, killed by his own Roman-bribed men while he slept.

Flashback, early 1470’s: Portugal fights Spain on two fronts. King Afonso V is defeated in a chaotic battle, while his son Prince John fought and won a battle that was apparently tactically brilliant but seemed strange to me. So, “There were neither victors nor vanquished.” Symbol of the battle was “The Mangled Man, who, in his chivalrous ardour, refuses to let the nation’s symbol fall” – a flag-bearer who kept holding the flag after having both hands cut off by the enemy. “King Afonso V’s image is belittled compared to The Mangled Man’s, whose courage the king himself didn’t deserve.”

Flashback, late 1470’s: John of the previous battle is now king, and his son Afonso is married to daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, so the children would have united the Iberian kingdoms, had Afonso not died during a horse race. Zodiac-like, this episode adds up the details of the suspicious/tragic event without drawing clear conclusions.

Time out for Cabrita to speak of Portugal’s discoveries and art, how they are more meaningful than any military achievements. This features a song, baby angels, much nudity, and Leonor Silveira.

Flashback, 1578, Alcazar-Quibir, the War of the Three Kings, a disastrous battle fought in northern Morocco. Cintra/Cabrita plays Alexandre Moreira, head of the adventurers’ regiment, who attacked first, to no avail. Three kings were killed, the nobility slaughtered, the army defeated, and Portugal was taken over by the Spanish government for the next sixty years.


The next day, out on patrol, they’re caught in Portugal’s latest military defeat – Cabrita is shot, taken to a military hospital populated by mutilated men. He dies in the hospital on April 25, 1974, the day of the Carnation Revolution which ended the colonial war.

Acquarello: “By juxtaposing history-based fiction with historical non-fiction, Oliveira illustrates the process of mythologization, where history becomes refracted and idealized in times of crisis and upheaval. However, rather than engendering a romanticism for the past glory, Oliveira dismantles the myth of conquest, reframing history as an elusive (and delusive) quest for fleeting victories and unsustainable empires.”

Oliveira quoted and took inspiration from Portuguese poet Camoes and his Lusiades. When asked to think back on the film: “The NON. . . you don’t have to go back, because the NON goes forward many years, therefore we are late compared to the NON.”

Past and Present (1972, Manoel de Oliveira)

The earliest Oliveira movie I’ve seen by three decades – and he was making movies three decades earlier than this. That would explain why this already feels like the work of an old master, even though I was considering it “early Oliveira.” The camera’s not as exactingly positioned as in Resnais films like Melo and Love Unto Death, but it has a similar feeling to those, the masterful European period dramas that seem at time to be filmed plays but with a mysterious sense that there’s always something more going on.

The Silent Gardener:

According to the wikipedia, Oliveira fell afoul of the government in the mid-60’s, accused of surrealism, then was silent for years until this film’s release. More: “With its lyrical surrealism and farcical situations, the film was a shift from his earlier work about lower class people. Based on a play by Joao Cesar Monteiro . . . Past and Present was the first of what has become known as Oliveira’s “Tetralogy of frustrated loves”. It was followed by Benilde or the Virgin Mother, Doomed Love and Francisca. Each of these films share the theme of unfulfilled love, the backdrop of a repressive society, and the beginning of Oliveira’s unique cinematic style.” It’s got that mannered surrealism typical of Bunuel’s late career – you can see how the two filmmakers got tangled together. Couldn’t tell if Oliveira was abusing the film’s soundtrack in various ways or (most likely) if the broadcast source of my video copy was a bit wonky. Second movie I’ve seen recently to use music by Mendelssohn. There’s not much written about the film online – even my most reliable Oliveira-advocate Rosenbaum had not seen this one, as of his writings circa Christopher Columbus, The Enigma.

First scene is a gathering of friends attending the funeral of Vanda’s ex-husband Ricardo. She abuses current husband Firmino, forbids him from attending. I don’t think Ricardo has just died – this is “the burial of his remains” two years later? “A year after his death, she married Firmino, and a year later, she fell in love with the former husband. An unhealthy passion for the deceased husband, the same that bothered her in life, and, at the same time, what an anger for poor Firmino!”

Firmino with hateful wife Vanda:

Also at the party: Fernando (sideburns, glasses) and Noemia (light hair, pulled back), a divorced couple with a better, more loving relationship than when they were married. Honorio (balding) and Angelica (reddish hair) are married, but slightly-shaggy, Depardieu-looking Mauricio is in love with Angelica. And finally there’s Daniel, the deceased Ricardo’s identical twin brother. Firmino is caught considering stabbing his wife to death, but holds back.

A year later, Firmino writes a suicide note then leaps from the window (comically avoiding being caught by the silent gardener). It takes him days to die, days his wife Vanda spends cursing his name and ordering a coffin – and the friends all gather at the house again. Angelica has been living with Mauricio, but he tells her to return to her husband (“This adultery will make you appreciate more the virtues of fidelity, just as a trip abroad reveals the sweetness of the homeland”) because he’s now in love with Noemia.

Cheaters Mauricio and Angelica:

Moments before her husband dies, Daniel reveals to Vanda that he’s really Ricardo, that the brothers had swapped clothes before the fatal car accident and he swapped his wedding ring afterwards.

“Vanda, your husband is dead”
L-R: Noemia (Manuela de Freitas of some Joao Cesar Monteiro films), Honorio (Duarte de Almeida of Magic Mirror, The Convent), Fernando, Angelica.

Another year – A judge has declared that Vanda and Ricardo are still married, so she’s now in love with the dead Firmino. Angelica is back with Mauricio and getting dumped again.

Ricardo spies Vanda hanging pictures of deceased Firmino around the house:


A friend is getting married, so the friends gather again, and the movie ends with the exchanging of wedding vows and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.