Les États généraux du film documentaire 2007 Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Manoel de Oliveira

Fragment of a filmmaker's work: Manoel de Oliveira


Manoel de Oliveira was born, grew up, lived and still lives in Porto. This fact has had serious consequences on all his work. For, in spite of the size of Portugal, scarcely one fifth of the Iberian peninsula, Lisbon, capital of the "empire", radiant courtisan, has long exerted and still exerts an almost irresistable attraction on all the Portuguese from the "provinces", in particular those who have ambitions in the sphere of the arts and, particularly, in cinema.

Oliveira was born at the beginning of the century of cinema in a wealthy industrial family from the North-West of the country – his father was the country's first manufacturer of electric lightbulbs – and he knew how to, nobody doubts this today, make the best use of his class privileges when dazzled by a projection of Walter Ruttmann's, Berlin, Symphony of a Great City, he decided to abandon his early dreams of becoming a lead actor to start directing films.

The geographic and social roots of Manoel are evident in his positioning as a cineast. On one hand, he only takes as subjects and only becomes interested in material which he knows, always taking his point of departure from the particular understanding of the world which is his: the universal historical, esthetic or ethical aspects of his work are never deployed at the cost of a personal way of looking at a personal reality. On the other hand, his solitude, the long period of isolation and distance from the capital (seat of the court and for a long time seat of a tyrannical state) were additional causes for his unfailing loyalty towards certain northern artists, Régio and Agustina to name the better known.

While it is certainly true that most of the Oliveira's fiction films constitute biting criticism of the bourgeois class, in his films closer to documentary, the director displays a keen attention to the problems – work and survival – of the people. His independence after 1974 was certainly reinforced by the age and generation gap with the other active filmmakers of the time. These factors protected him from the ups and downs of fashion, giving him the freedom to question his time and the advantage of the implicit step back and intimate distance that Brecht theorised. Manoel accepts his memory and accepts his status as memory. Memory is his instrument of understanding, sometimes of comparison between the past and the present. So he accepts to "limit" his public statements to his medium, which has not impeded him from becoming one of the film directors who has the most often and intensely questioned the relations of cinema to other forms of expression and representation: cinema and theatre, cinema and literature, cinema and painting. He also questions the canonic forms of fiction film in relation to other forms, abandoned or untried, of cinema itself. As a cineast anchored to profound convictions on the unstable ground he has been working since Douro Faina Fluvial, cineast of the resistance, always ready to confront the realities which resist him, Manoel de Oliveira is a cineast of the future.

Guests : Invités : Regina Guimarães et Saguenail (réalisateurs).

Remerciements à la Cinemateca Portuguesa et à l'Institut Jean Vigo, Perpignan.