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NYFF 2010. Manoel de Oliveira's "The Strange Case of Angelica"

So here's a roundup that provides an opportunity to draw attention to two new issues of publications that, after all these decades, are still required reading. Among the articles posted online from the Fall 2010 issue of Film Quarterly (first published in 1945; and thanks to Catherine Grant for the heads up on this one) is Edward Lawrenson's report from Cannes, where Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica premiered in the Un Certain Regard program.

And "it tells of Isaak, a shy photographer living in rural Portugal who is commissioned to take the portrait of a beautiful young woman who has died only days after her wedding. Captivated by the image of her corpse, artfully laid out to rest before burial, Isaak falls under a ghostly spell. He becomes increasingly withdrawn from village life, and — in sequences of beguiling Méliès-like fantasy — dreams of flying through the night sky with her. If The Strange Case of Angelica's dialogue scenes between the fellow guests in Isaak's boarding house are a little stiff, and the film's ruminative tone never quite makes for fully engaged emotional drama, its reflections on impermanence, mortality, and the changing world convey great pathos."

"The most existential of filmmakers, Manoel de Oliveira has, for decades now, been making every movie as though it were his last," writes J Hoberman in the October issue of Artforum (founded in 1962). Angelica "is one more unique sign-off — drily comic, intentionally stilted, deliberate yet digressive, at once avant-garde and retro." A three-paragraph biographical sketch follows, and then: "Although technically another one of Oliveira's frustrated love stories, The Strange Case of Angelica is also sui generis. As funny and peculiar as its title promises, the film is a modestly serene and sublime meditation on the essence of the motion-picture medium, glimpsed in the half-light of eternity."

Glenn Kenny notes that the "special effects are attractive but also have an old-school feel that keeps you in the continuity of Méliès, Feuillade, and finally Franju; indeed, Angelica often struck me as a differently-hued variation on Philippe Garrel's 2008 ghost/amour fou story La frontiere de l'aube, which also wears its stylistic debt to those filmmakers with stolid, trend-resistant pride. Angelica is not necessarily 'lighter' than Garrel's film, but it is a bit cozier. And, like Garrel's vision, it is not in the least bit coy about being its own strange thing. I've taken the quote from Rossellini about Chaplin's A King in New York out of my bag quite a few times, and I'm going to do it again, because it completely applies here: 'It is the film of a free man.'"

Writing for Slant, Andrew Schenker finds that "Angelica is far sturdier than its makeweight precursor Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl. A meditation on modernity, fantasy, and that unique, increasingly anachronistic form of madness known as the cinema, the film wears its intellectualism lightly, so that even a discussion of José Ortega y Gasset seems about as mentally taxing as watching a cat stare down a bird, an event that Oliveira lingers on with loving attention."

On the other hand, Simon Abrams for the New York Press: "Immensely satisfying, though probably not as hardy as Oliveira's other 2010 release, Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl."

"The tension between the modern and the archaic will be familiar to those who know De Oliveira's work," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. "Yet it crystallizes here into something sublime, especially whenever the specter herself appears, taunting her earthly inamorato with Méliès-like visions of the great beyond."

For Peter Gutierrez, writing at Twitch, the film "feels like a part-whimsical, part-magic-realist feature film that has been abridged to a short — then blown up again to 90 minutes. In the process we seem to have lost certain kinds of details, making this mildly supernatural allegory both pared down and quirkily meandering."

NYFF screenings: Sunday and Wednesday. Earlier: The Cannes roundup and Daniel Kasman: "We sing high praises for Hollywood’s sincere sentimentalist — and sentimental sincerest — Frank Borzage, and with The Strange Case of Angelica it is a delight to see Manoel de Oliveira apply a cerebral, shaded touch to a Borzagian, risk-taking, haunted love story."

Updates, 10/4: "Like Certified Copy and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the festival main slate's two other unqualified masterpieces, The Strange Case of Angelica uses cinema as a tool for reconciliation," writes Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door. "All three movies bring disparate characters together on screen — people of different nationalities, classes, races, religions, ages, sexualities, genders, and political backgrounds, human and non-human animals, and even the living and the dead — and then suggest that we go one step further, and overlook the boundary between film and the external world."

"See it now, see it when it opens, but see it," advises Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

"The Strange Case of Angelica takes as its central concerns nothing less than the spiritual nature of being but still manages to be pithy and casual," writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot. "He always makes big existential questions seem like simple riffs; the longer, all-encompassing work they're part and parcel of would of course be his entire, astonishingly long oeuvre. Strange Case, with its musings on death and the transcendent nature of art, would seem like the perfect elegy for this most elder statesman of cinema — if not for the fact that every other film since his 2001 portrait of an aging actor I'm Going Home, could also be called just that."

Update, 10/6: "Oliviera's latest is both sublimely silly and deeply earnest, a snapshot of consuming obsession and the inspiring power of art that's like falling into a bewildering, beguiling dream," writes Nick Schager in the L.

Coverage of the coverage: NYFF 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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