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Thread: The Strange Case of Angelica

  1. #1
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    The Strange Case of Angelica

    Seen at the Vancouver International Film Festival
    THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA

    (O Estranho Caso de Angélica)

    Directed by Manoel de Oliviera, Portugal, (2010), 97 minutes

    "At night he stands up, the distant call of birds already deep inside him; and feels bold, because he has taken all the galaxies into his face." Rainer Maria Rilke


    To the contemplative background of a Chopin Sonata, 102-year old Manoel de Oliviera’s The Strange Case of Angelica is a quietly masterful meditation on the thin line between the present and the past and between this world and the next. Even after half a century of making movies, The Strange Case of Angelica shows that Oliviera is willing to take risks and explore issues that most directors stay far away from. Winner of numerous awards at Cannes and Venice, Oliviera’s camera is often static and even by standards of art cinema, the film is slow, yet, even though it can be heavy-going at times, it is atmospheric, moody, and spiritually informed, filled with the truth of life.

    In the middle of a rainy night, Isaac (Ricardo Trepa), a Sephardic Jewish photographer, is summoned by wealthy hotel owners to take photos of their daughter, Angelica (Pilar López de Ayala), who has suddenly died. A beautiful bride dressed in her wedding gown with a hint of a smile on her face, Isaac is immediately captured by her presence and magically sees Angelica open her eyes and smile at him through the lens of his camera. He becomes obsessed with Angelica, dreaming of her angelic smile, and starts to withdraw from the outside world. He becomes, in the phrase of John Banville, “all inwardness, gazing out in ever intensifying perplexity upon a world in which nothing is exactly plausible, nothing is exactly what it is.”

    The landlady of the boarding house where he is staying notices Isaac’s odd behavior and sullen disposition and comments to her other guests that he has become strange. One night, as he stands in the dining room, he sees a group of workers tilling the soil and singing work songs as they would have done in the 1950s and rushes out to the vineyard to photograph them. Underlying the director’s view that beauty has disappeared from modern life, when the same scene appears again later in the film, the work is being done by noisy overbearing machines and the sweet music of the worker’s song has been replaced by the roar of the tiller’s engine.

    As his fellow boarders and a pair of engineers take their meals, they talk about the cancellation of a bridge-building project, the difference between matter and anti-matter, and the current economic climate, yet Isaac stands aloof sipping on coffee and shows little interest. One night Angelica’s spirit appears and reaches out to him through the dimensions and hovers over his sleeping body. In a vivid out-of-body experience, he takes her hand as they soar together through the clouds above farms and villages, in rapturous embrace.

    Though Isaac talks about, "that strange reality” saying, “perhaps it was just a hallucination, but it was just as real as waking life," the experience binds him ever closer to Angelica and, as if gripped by a sudden feverish insanity, loses his grip on the everyday world around him. Though at times lacking in lightness of spirit, The Strange Case of Angelica is the work of a master who challenges us to see the “absolutely unbroken continuity” between life and death, informing us with his camera that love is forever, that life is forever.

    GRADE: A-

    For a different point of view, read Chris Knipp's informative review

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    Last edited by Howard Schumann; 10-18-2010 at 12:23 AM.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  2. #2
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    I think maybe, at 101 and after eight decades of filmmaking Manoel de Oliveira actually deserves an outright A rather than an A-. Despite my having found the film somewhat slow and (doubtless intentionally) repetitious, I feel it creates its own odd, unique, memorable mood. And as I also said, the Chagallesque F/X-ed ascending lovers is an image of sublime simplicity. I should add though that some writers point out the F/X is rather crude and obvious. Peter Gutierrez on Twitch goes into detail about this in a somewhat jaundiced account of the film.

    J. Hoberman has a discussion of de Oliveira and this film in Art Forum that is thoughtful, worshipful, and full of background about the filmmaker's long career. Hoberman sees THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA as a love song to the medium of film. Hoberman's conclusion:
    The last living filmmaker born during the age of the nickelodeon, Oliveira told an interviewer that cinema today is the “same as it was for Lumière, for Méliès and Max Linder. There you have realism, the fantastic, and the comic. There’s nothing more to add to that, absolutely nothing.” The great beauty of this love song to the medium is that Oliveira’s eschewal remains absolute. It’s a strange case—pictures move and time stands still.
    Hoberman also notes that the film opens in New York and LA in November. IndieWIRE says the distributor is Cinema Guild.

    I've also learned that Ricardo Trêpa is Oliveira's grandson.

  3. #3
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    insane passion

    Well, my ratings are very subjective and not meant to indicate which film is best, only a reflection of how it impacted me.

    By the way, what is "the classic pattern of the Arabic and medieval platonic mythology of insane sublimated passion". That's a new one on me.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  4. #4
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    By the way, what is "the classic pattern of the Arabic and medieval platonic mythology of insane sublimated passion". That's a new one on me.
    It's not new to you. It's courtly love. Ibn Hazm's The Dove's Neck-Ring. It's believed that the Provençal poets who first enunciated the themes of western courtly love may have gotten a lot of their ideas from Arabic poetry, and the Platonic tradition, familiar to the Arab scholars when the medieval West had lost track of the Greeks, fed into that too.

    There is a link between the Arabic tradition of "Majnun Layla" and the hopeless lover as in Dante and his Beatrice and Petrarch and his Laura. See Wikipedia, "Layla and Majnun."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-15-2010 at 09:18 PM.

  5. #5
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    Very interesting.

    Thanks for the information. Arabic literature is one area that has been missing in my education.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  6. #6
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    You're welcome. Arabic literature is something most westerners know little about, and it's a vast subject.

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