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BERLINALE 2009 Special / Portugal

Oliveira turns to Portuguese realism in Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl

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Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl [+see also:
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– the latest work by Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira – was shown to the Berlinale press in a special screening yesterday.

The film is based on Eça de Queirós’ eponymous short story of 1874. After paying homage to romanticism with his adaptation of Camilo Castelo Branco (Ill-fated Love, 1979), it was only natural for Oliveira to turn to the pioneer of Portuguese realism.

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The plot itself is rather romantic and centres on the disappointments of a thoroughly decent young man (Ricardo Trêpa). He is smitten with a flirtatious young blonde girl (Catarina Wallenstein) who plays with her fan in the window opposite his office. Exchanged glances give rise to their love, but the couple’s adorable gestures are never as endearing as when they’re described in words.

In his subtle way of combining visual nuance, spoken narrative and literature, we cannot fail to recognise Oliveira’s art. As in the short story, the young man’s downfall is not shown directly but related by the protagonist to an unknown listener on a train and literature is present in the scene of the literary circle, where writings are read. Once again in this film, every word has the resonance of a book and the smallest gestures are significant – a detail highlighted by the actors at the press conference.

Needing no artifice to make the text his own, sometimes following it word for word, Oliveira specified that it was due to financial reasons that he didn’t reconstruct 19th-century Lisbon and decided instead to "update the story", as signalled in the film’s opening credits.

This choice proves fortunate, for it lends further depth to the story: the characters’ behaviour, which remains delightfully old-fashioned (for instance the scene of the kiss filmed not at face level but at the level of a small, coquettishly raised woman’s foot), contrasts starkly with the moral decline of modern times.

In an era where banks no longer honour their debts, as is explicitly stated in the film, the young hero asks the permission of his elders, keeps his word and pays his friends’ debts. At the press conference, Oliveira emphasised that he wanted to transpose old "values" onto contemporary society.

Moreover, the director spoke of many other matters at the press conference in Berlin, which was longer than the actual film (at just over an hour). Oliveira – who has just turned 100, to our amazement and that of his French producer – is determined to continue his role as storyteller, touching on all realms of knowledge and experience.

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(Translated from French)

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