“Commerce shuns a sentimental accountant”

I don’t know what to expect from an Oliveira movie. This one is only an hour long, but not because it’s in any great hurry to tell its story, a fairly simple one which moves at a leisurely pace. Definitely a well-made film, with a respectable look to it, not a work of madcap genius, not tired or haphazard. Mildly enjoyable throughout, then at the end I’m not sure what it all meant.
Adapted from a story by famous novelist Eça de Queirós but set in modern day, so there’s a scene at a literary society with a bust of the author among other displays of his work. Narrated by the lead character to a stranger on a train, played by Leonor Silveira, star of A Talking Picture.

Macario (Ricardo Trepa, the bartender who chats with Piccoli in Belle Toujours) is an accountant for his uncle, sees beautiful Luisa (Catarina Wallenstein of Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon) across the street and falls in love. Conspires to marry her, but his uncle will have none of it, so he sets out on his own, makes a small fortune working in Cape Verde then returns, only to lose it all by vouching for a friend who leaves town with another man’s wife. So he’s about to go back to Cape Verde but his uncle decides to take him back, says he can marry the girl. So they go out ring shopping, she is caught stealing a ring, he tells her to go away, roll credits. In an earlier scene, he lost a poker chip (during a poetry reading by Luis Miguel Cintra, who played the malignant uncle in Pedro Costa’s O Sangue, as himself) which rolled towards Luisa and disappeared, so he must realize she’s a habitual thief. Still, it’s an odd little story.

Trepa and Silveira:

J. Reichert

[The story] occupies the filmmaker’s by-now familiar nether-Lisbon, in which lives are lived simultaneously in 1609, 1909, and 2009. Oliveira’s a filmmaker at which the adjective urbane could be lobbed equally as praise or slight depending on your tolerance for his scarily coherent (especially of late) body of work. …If this tale weren’t so endearing and well told, it’d be more akin to one of those lengthy jokes told by aged uncles lacking in point or punchline.

Luis Miguel Cintra:

NY Times searches for clues:

As his story begins, the landscape outside the train window is snow covered; by the time it ends, it is green. Other tiny mysteries deepen the film’s enigmatic, gently surreal mood. … Macário encounters a strange, agitated man looking for his hat, left at the spot where Macário is standing. Periodically the movie returns to the same long shot of Lisbon but always filmed in a different light. At various points chimes ring from a tower whose clock has no hands. Everything is framed. Macário’s story is framed by the train trip. His dream girl, a full-lipped sensual beauty whose ash-blond hair tumbles over one eye, is glimpsed while standing at a window, seen through another window, waving a fringed Chinese fan. Even when she retreats behind a thin curtain, her silhouette is visible. Behind her is a framed portrait. Art not only seems to watch over life but to preserve it.

A blond-haired girl:

The DVD holds a press conference with the director and lead actors which is longer than the movie itself… might watch that another day.