Manoel de Oliveira's stately, highly theatricalised cinema may be an acquired taste. But the latest work from the venerable 103-year old Portuguese auteur pulls his archaic style straight into the modern day without losing an inch of its antique, baroque characteristics. This abridged adaptation of writer Raul Brandão's 1923 play follows Mr. de Oliveira's usual process of static-camera long takes, almost like immobile tableaux, focusing on dialogue that unfolds like a theatre play. But, here, veteran Renato Berta's lush, tactile cinematography and the committed performances from a stellar cast manage to lift O Gebo e a Sombra above any stagey theatrics into a moving tale of people hemmed in by their social status.

     The action takes place in the impoverished household of pitiful clerk Gebo (a wonderful Michael Lonsdale), whose wife (Claudia Cardinale) and daughter-in-law (Leonor Silveira) pine for the return of wayward son and husband João (Ricardo Trêpa); his absence, we will learn, is due to his refusal to countenance the poverty the family lives in, preferring to seek a better life for himself by whatever means necessary. While not entirely surprising - Mr. de Oliveira has always been a fan of moral tales - the choice does seem to fit like a glove our times of economic crisis and open revolt of the "99%", though the theme is never overly underlined.

     While the director has previously drawn good work from unlikely casts, what Mr. Lonsdale and Ms. Cardinale here achieve is simply mesmerizing, to the point that Ms. Silveira, a muse to the filmmaker for the past 20 years, rises above herself in what may be her finest performance ever. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Mr. Trêpa, the director's grandson and another regular of his repertory company, who has done good work previously but is here merely struggling, unable to rise to the level of the cast around him (completed by brief cameos from a playful Jeanne Moreau and Luís Miguel Cintra). Mr. Trêpa's wooden presence does not entirely throw away the film, probably Mr. de Oliveira's finest of his later works, but does bring it down a notch.

Cast: Michael Lonsdale, Claudia Cardinale, Jeanne Moreau, Leonor Silveira, Luís Miguel Cintra, Ricardo Trêpa

Director: Manoel de Oliveira
Screenplay: Mr. de Oliveira, from the play O Gebo e a Sombra by Raul Brandão
Cinematography: Renato Berta (colour, processing by Kodak Cinelabs Greece)
Designer: Christian Marti
Costumes: Adelaide Trêpa
Editor: Valérie Loiseleux
Producers: Luís Urbano, Sandro Aguilar, Martine de Clermont-Tonnerre (O Som e a Fúria, MACT Production)
Portugal/France, 2012, 95 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 1 (Lisbon), August 1st 2012

O GEBO E A SOMBRA TRAILER from o som e a fúria on Vimeo.


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