Sunday, October 23, 2011

Twice Smitten

That a 101-year old man could make a film about youth and love so believable left my head and heart happy.

"The Strange Case of Angelica" by Portuguese director Manoel de Olivera was tonight's feature at UR's International Film series.

The series is always a mix of students and an older crowd taking advantage of the chance to see foreign films, this one less than a year old, that don't otherwise show here.

Because Olivera first conceived of this movie back in the '50s, there were a lot of details about it that seemed anachronistic for 2010.

The main character Isaac wore a fedora and carried a handkerchief; I don't know a man today who does either regularly.

He lived in a boarding house and his landlady brought his breakfast up on a tray when he didn't come downstairs for the meal. With a flower.

And the whole premise of the film begins with him being called to a wealthy home to take a death portrait of the beautiful daughter who has just died.

There's a custom long gone.

In a magical moment, one of many in the movie, as he's taking the photograph, the girl opens her eyes and smiles at him.

None of the mourners in the room notice, but at that moment he is smitten.

She comes to visit him at night and they fly over the city; he dreams of her, reaching up to her form floating over his bed.

At breakfast, other boarders discuss matter and anti-matter as a matter of hypothesis while he realizes that he has achieved the intersection of the two in his meetings with Angelica.

Before the film, we had been warned that the movie was slow and used mostly static cameras ("No MTV quick cutting in this film").

I would argue that it reflects the attention span of a time past when movie audiences enjoyed lingering shots of workers singing in a vineyard or an exchange from a balcony to the street on a rainy night.

It wasn't slow; it lingered. Nothing was forced and Isaac's gradual obsession with Angelica unfolded in a completely believable way.

The film's take on life and death and the thin line that separates the two worlds (and the visible wires during the flying scenes) made for a moody and atmospheric film that would never get off the ground in Hollywood.

I left grateful to the now-102-year old director who essentially assured me through this quiet and whimsical film that love and life are forever.

At his age, I'm assuming he must know.

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