Tuesday, August 6, 2013

MIFF Session 12: Gebo and the Shadow: fait accompli ... pas encore

The director of this film, Manoel de Olivera, is 104 years old and this is not his last. So how do you continue in cinema when you are almost as old as it and have seen every trope and sleight of lens it has to offer? You go back to basics.

Gebo and the Shadow is a melodrama from the early twentieth century written by the kind of adventurer that its prodigal son character Joao wants to be were it not for his chaotic ethical fog. De Olivera shoots what is very slightly removed from the piece's stage origins, almost exclusively in a single set and within that, often in a static setup across a table where characters converse or monologise as they would if the audience were there before them.

As a melodrama with its origins it strives in its plot only to elicit pity from its beholders. What we have here, though, is a wealth of performance which is why we soon cease to care about the stagey set. Claudia Cardinale is bitterness and tears, a mother soured by her absent and ungrateful son, herself ungrateful to the wife he left behind to care for her. Jean Moreau appears in a brief but wonderful scene where the old folks take coffee and are lambasted by the prodigal. The bi-lingual Michael Lonsdale, though, provides the full pull of gravity with his lifelong suffering patriarch who has put up with his wife's constant severity for decades and his son's hungry amorality. The duty he speaks of is of the type that utters the final self-damning line. We knew it was coming but are glad of its delivery.

It's poignant that de Olivera choose this piece from fellow Porto native Raul Brandao with its resignation to life in the face of a squandering grasp of it. De Olivera, whose first film was a silent one, has chosen a quiet statement of fealty to his own duty.

All this might seem damning with faint praise but is it when all I'm really saying is that this film does exactly what it was designed to do?

And the bastard is still making movies!

I prefer this greatly to the tweeness of his more celebrated Strange Case of Angelica. There, there's your praise. I'll take the achievement over it any day.

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