The Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira is the oldest filmaker still making films — he’s 102 at the moment! Even more surprising is the fact that his most productive years have come since the 1990s (often two films a year). Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009) is the first of his I’ve seen and won’t be my last. Despite the fact that Eccentricities has its fair share of flaws it is a gorgeous and timeless tale told in a straightforward manner harkening back to traditional forms, lines, characters… Beneath the visual spectacle is an ironic and strangely compelling story about the vicisitudes of love.
Brief Plot Summary
Macário (played by Manoel de Oliveira’s grandson, Ricardo Têpa) recounts his tale of woe to a fellow train passenger whom he doesn’t know (played by de Oliveira’s favorite actress and a staple of most of his films, Leonor Silveira). Macário, a rather nervous accountant who works for his wealthy uncle at a cloth store, happens to see out of his window a beautiful blonde named Luísa (Catarina Wallenstein) with a Chinese fan.
Macário, a well-meaning but rather empty individual, is utterly smitten and decides to win her as his bride — the first time they actually meet he manages to say the same three things to her (twice). It is a “love” based entirely on a glance — it appears to be nothing more. Of course, we have to understand that the entire narrative is told by our main character, later, in a state of despair after the course of the events. What he remembers is what we see. Even so, the basis of his love is unnervingly one-dimensional.
Macário’s uncle fires him when he hears of his nephews desire to get married (again, Macário’s despair manipulates what we see — one has no idea why his uncle acts this way — it is as if what we are seeing are simply impressions of events though the lens of memory, the overpowering single emotion, the swings between emotions, the most important events).
Our protagonist heads off to the Canary islands to find his fortune which is quickly snatched away from him when he returns. He heads back off to the islands, returns with a second fortune, heads to see his soon to be bride — and, well, watch the film!
Through the course of writing this review I’ve slowly revamped my rating of this film. I’m intrigued (as always) by untrustworthy narrators in the throws of mental anguish — we see a stylized and simplified world through Macário’s eyes. We are ambling through a tableau of simplified emotion — despair, love, despair, etc.
The tableau concept is reinforced by the superb cinematography of Sabine Lancelin — it is dominated by verdant colors, single camera angles, deliberate camera movement if movement is absolutely necessary. Every image is a painting. Every image is deliberate, careful, framed — Luísa in her window with a Chinese fan — we see Macário at his desk, his window, the space the street, her window, the thin white drapes, the outline of her body, the moving fan… Beautiful.
This is an intriguing film. Don’t let the simplicity of the narrative, the structure, the characters, etc put you off. This isn’t the work of an old man bereft of ideas as a few reviewers have suggested — Manoel de Oliveira has constructed a timeless, gorgeous, and strangely compelling work of art.