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Parsi, Jacques. Manoel de Oliveira. Cineaste portugais.

Parsi, Jacques. Manoel de Oliveira. Cineaste portugais. Series Arts du spectacle. Paris: Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian, 2002. Pp. 193, illustrations and sketches. ISBN 972-8462-23-9

Parsi's book Manoel de Oliveira. Cineaste portugais offers a concise presentation of the life, methods and artistic approaches of an artist cosidered to be the most important of all Portuguese filmmakers. Manoel de Oliveira was born in Porto in 1908 and is still living. In the 1980s and 1990s the famous Portuguese directot worked mainly in France, although he never resided there. His personal friend, Jacques Parsi, often served as de Oliveira's adviser or co-writer, adapting his typically Portuguese ideas into French dialogs and situations, providing an interesting example of cross-cultural collaboration.

This small book is divided into three sections. The first chapter (pp. 19-34) consists of mixed reflections and memories about Manoel de Oliveira's long career, pertaining to the various moments of his life: his father's burial, a recent trip to Paris in order to work on Paul Claudel's Le soulier de satin, and similar anecdotes providing hints about the director's personality.

The second part, titled "Je n'obeis pas" ["I do not obey"] is the most consistent and instructive (pp. 35-150). That radical leitmotiv is taken from a dialog heard in the film Je rentre a la maison [I Am Going Home] (2001). We discover aspects of de Oliveira's unique, unusual, free style that uses nonnarrative segments and often integrates theatrical elements and Brechtian distanciation in feature films sometimes lasting more than four hours (Amor de perdicao, 1978). The section contains some more biographical elements, related to de Oliveira's childhood, his discovery of France, and offers more information on his eclectic, literary and filmic influences, from F. W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927) to some Italian peplums from the fifties (p. 53). One of the most lasting cinematographical influences was Walter Ruttmann's filmic essay, Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927) (pp. 57-59). Later, the book allows us to share de Oliveira's enthusiastic reaction to the 1974 revolution in Portugal (p. 106).

Jacques Parsi presents Manoel de Oliviera's numerous projects and feature films, from his first documentaries and the famous breakthrough film Aniki-Bobo (1942) to the recent, autobiographical film Porto da minha infancia (2001). Parsi does not analyse the works from a specific theoretical perspective but he rather presents the elements necessary to understand the context and explain the circumstances surrounding the making of each movie. Also covered are some of my personal favourites, such as de Oliveira's masterpieces Amor de perdicao (1978), adapted from Camilo Castelo Branco's novel, and Francisca (1981), based on Agustina Bessa-Luis's novel Fanny Owen (p. 111).

The book integrates reviews published in various French newspapers. Many French film critics praised de Oliveira's movies, usually rejected in Portugal because of their non-commercial character. Since the 1980s, some of de Oliveira's works were often presented in film festivals like Cannes and Venetia. Parsi makes it clear that after 1981 Manoel de Oliveira could not have made his feature films without financial help from his French co-producers (p. 122). The book mentions even de Oliveira's lesser known movies. We learn for instance that in 1981 Manoel de Oliveira directed a film meant to be posthumous and therefore not yet seen, about his own personal house, La visite ou Memoires et confessions (p. 108).

The much shorter third chapter (pp. 151-161) deals with the very selected audiences that attended de Oliveira's movies. His films did not attract much attention from the average film critics and are not lucrative. The comments seem more like admirative illustrations of a unique style: "This Portugese artist does not have his audience or the possible profits in mind when filming" (p. 158).

The book includes thirty rare colour photographs and sketches, followed by a complete filmography, including de Oliveira's early short films made in the 1930s and his 1987 work for the stage (De profundis). I believe Jacques Parsi's Manoel de Oliveira. Cineaste portugais represents a unique addition to the knowledge of the Portuguese cinema and an essential contribution to the understanding of de Oliveira's works and vision. Reading the book, I sometimes thought about what French scriptwriter Jean-Claude Carriere had created with Luis Bunuel's autobiography Mon dernier soupir (My Last Sigh, 1982), transforming the director's memories into a fascinating autobiographical narrative. Jacques Parsi's piece is just as memorable, and it is too bad that his fine book is so hard to find (as are de Oliveira's movies on DVD). There is still no monograph in English about this incomparable Portuguese director, and I think Parsi's useful portrait should some day be translated.

Yves Laberge, Ph.D.

Film historian and consultant

Quebec City
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Author:Laberge, Yves
Publication:Portuguese Studies Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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