The Strange Case of Angélica

96 minutes

Look no further than O Estranho Caso de Angélica to find an explanation for centenarian Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira's continued acclaim from critics and fellow filmmakers (if not from audiences often confounded by his rarefied, old-fashioned style). Mr. de Oliveira is likely to be the last living link to the pioneer era of filmmaking: a director who lived through a whole century of technical evolution without ever turning his back on what he regards as the essential original traits — long, fixed-camera takes, a painterly eye for shot composition, a flat, almost theatrical approach to performance. And yet, such a recipe for fusty arthouse dogma is transfigured in mr. de Oliveira's films, especially in O Estranho Caso de Angélica. It can be seen either as a testament or, more certainly, as a metaphor of the power of the moving image to mesmerize and guide, through the tale of a photographer (Ricardo Trêpa) who falls in love, to the point of obsession, with the dead Angélica (Pilar López de Ayala) whose deathbed portrait he took.
     A whimsical fantasy originally written by mr. de Oliveira in the early 1950s but only now brought to the screen, the film retains the director's famously arcane, stilted way with dialogue and plotting. But it receives unexpected grace notes from the charmingly archaic visual effects (evoking early Méliès) and its leisurely, almost lackadaisical rhythm. Of course, the unrelated chatty digressions typical of his work can be a drag; and mr. Trêpa (the director's grandson and a recurrent leading man in his later films) remains an uneven actor, though thankfully what is asked of him here plays to his strengths rather than to his weaknesses. But this slight, melancholy ghost story is probably the most accessible that mr. de Oliveira has been in a long time; and it may prove a good entry point for those intrigued by his critical acclaim and willing to take a chance on his prolific production.

Starring Ricardo Trêpa, Pilar López de Ayala; with the participation of Leonor Silveira, Luís Miguel Cintra and Ana Maria Magalhães.
     Directed and written by Manoel de Oliveira; produced by François d'Artemare, Maria João Mayer, Luís Miñarro, Renata de Almeida, Leon Cakoff; director of photography (Image Film), Sabine Lancelin; art directors, Christian Martí, José Pedro Penha; costume designer, Adelaide Maria Trêpa; film editor, Valérie Loiseleux. 
     A François d'Artemare/Maria João Mayer/Luís Miñarro/Renata de Almeida/Leon Cakoff presentation of a Filmes do Tejo II/Eddie Saeta/Les Films de l'Après-Midi/Mostra Internacional de Cinema production; with the support of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual, Spanish Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual Arts, Brazilian National Cinema Fund, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian and Ibermedia Programme; co-financed by Radio and Television of Portugal. (Portuguese distributor, Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais. World sales, Pyramide International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, São Jorge 1 (Lisbon), April 15th 2011. 


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