University of California – Los Angeles
The Ethics of Manoel de Oliveira
Manoel de Oliveira expresses a profoundly ethical stance in his discussion, in multiple works, of art and life, life and death, the relationship between moral or religious ideals and social reality, good and evil, love and desire, and the possibility of discovering the truth of human beings’ enigmatic existence. At some moments his ethics takes on a religious coloration, at others it is purely secular. His films raise many questions, but they rarely provide answers, and they are never prescriptive. Rather, they present situations involving human conduct on individual, national, and global scales in order to provoke reflection on the part of the spectator. His ethical posture derives both from his reflections on the modern world, shaped in part by a combination of his religious formation and a perhaps more Kantian notion of ethics, and from intense reflection on the place and nature of film in its broader social and aesthetic contexts. At the same time, they challenge traditional or mainstream cinematic conventions, which do much to impede the kind of reflection that Oliveira desires.
Randal Johnson is a Distinguished Professor based at the Department of Spanish & Portuguese, UCLA. Professor Johnson served previously, since 2005, as director of the UCLA Latin American Institute. An experienced administrator, he has also been chair of both the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Program on Brazil at UCLA, as well as Faculty Director of the UC-wide Education Abroad Program Study Center in Brazil. Before joining UCLA in 1994, Professor Johnson served on the faculties of Rutgers University and the University of Florida, where he was Chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.
Johnson’s scholarly expertise focuses primarily on the study of Brazilian film and literature. He is the author or editor of eight books and dozens of research articles. Among his publications are Brazilian Cinema (with Robert Stam), The Film Industry in Brazil: Culture and the State, Black Brazil: Culture, Identity and Social Mobilization (with Larry Crook) and The Field of Cultural Production, an edited collection of essays by Pierre Bourdieu. He has recently completed a book on Portuguese film director Manoel de Oliveira. Johnson’s research has been supported by the Tinker Foundation, the Joint Council on Latin America of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was decorated in 1999 with the Order of the Southern Cross by the Brazilian government. Johnson’s PhD is from the University of Texas at Austin.
Université de Lille
Time and place of Manoel de Oliveira’s Cinematography (Some reflections on the debate on Portugal in Oliveira’s films and on the importance of Oliveira’s work within the framework of Portuguese film)
Manoel de Oliveira’s cinematography, absolutely unique in every perspective, is now concluded. The filmmaker’s legacy is considerable. Its value equals the chronological length of his production, the audacity of its formal inventions and the diversity of objects of knowledge it discusses.
In light of the above, we have the great responsibility to disseminate Oliveira’s work, to examine its singularities, and to reflect on the periodization of its development, bearing in mind a time that is as long as it is assymmetric. In other words, we are invited to question the work as far as its «time» is concerned, which is obviously the time of cinema in Portugal, but also the time of cinema in the world. Moreover, we are invited to discuss Oliveira’s work by taking into account its inscription in this singular place that is Portugal, as Oliveira himself asserted: «Every film, as film, will be what the filmmaker and his place in life are. What is thus determining? In my opinion, it is the place that emerges, since in it its original expression the place implies the gaze.».
And to consider this last and paradoxical singularity when, from the spectator’s perspective, the work ends with a film situated in its middle (1982) and is identified by a sub-title (Memories and Confessions) of great strength («confessions»!), which, according to Oliveira, resulted from his having «been unexpectedly captured by this interest, this curiosity to know more, by this wish of questioning (himself) about the future of Portugal».
Jacques Lemière holds a PhD in sociology and anthropology and is professeur agrégé in social sciences. He is a Professor at the Institut de sociologie et anthropologie de l’Université de Lille (Sciences et technologies) and member of the Centre Lillois d’Etudes et de Recherches Sociologiques et Economiques (CLERSE, Unité mixte de recherche 8019 CNRS, Université de Lille).
In addition to discussing political anthropology (migrations: state policies, representations and mobilizations; state sociology and anthropology), his works and publications address Portuguese film (his dissertation Le cinéma comme interpellation du pays. Parcours de cinéastes, événement politique et idée nationale. Le cas du cinéma portugais après Avril 1974 was defended at the Université de Lille in 2007), documentary film and the relationship between anthropology and cinema.
In 2007 he founded and has so far coordinated the research seminar Images, sons et sciences sociales at the Université de Lille. His special bond with Portuguese film was created in 1990 with Cineluso, pour la connaissance du cinéma portugais (screenings, publications and lectures), and, within this framework, the organization of the Journées de cinéma portugais de Rouen (1990-1995), during which the works of diverse generations of Portuguese filmmakers were screened (João César Monteiro, Fernando Lopes, Teresa Vilaverde, Rita Azevedo Gomes, among others), and integral retrospectives of cineastes such as Manoel de Oliveira, Paulo Rocha, António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, Alberto Seixas Santos, José Alvaro Morais, Jorge Silva Melo, João Botelho and Pedro Costa were organized.
Escola Superior Artística do Porto (ESAP) / Universidade Lusófona do Porto
Manoel de Oliveira. A Political Cinema
Manoel de Oliveira always stated that his cinema was not political. Nevertheless, the accuracy and determination which he put into the critical interpellation of the present – along over 80 years, i.e., through all the political regimes experienced in Portugal in the twentieth century from the end of the monarchy to the consolidation of democracy – make his work one of the most persistently and intransigently political mirrors of modern Portugal.
While vindicating the responsible irresponsibility of poets, we understand the political attitude from an artistic standpoint as a search for truth. But the fact remains that Oliveira’s films were not always well received by his contemporaries. How could people understand Oliveira’s decision to film the Passion of Christ in Acto da Primavera at a time when the country was involved in the Colonial War? Even worse, how could they accept that he confined himself to the studio to create mystical dramas such as Benilde ou a Virgem-Mãe and Amor de Perdição, apparently turning his back to the Revolution? What not everyone was able to understand – in face of his apparent ideological ambiguity (not yet fully undone) as well as of the anachronism of the literary texts he adapted, and a supposed outdate on his part – was the mode through which the director subversively exploded the bourgeois linguistic codes and demystified authority (including his authorial self), thus placing responsibility over the spectator while confirming the interdependence between the aesthetical and the political. Dispensing with an ideological primer or any programmatic uproar, Manoel de Oliveira’s work demonstrates that the political revolution germinates in the aesthetic revolution. This is displayed, along formal and thematic lines, in the inaugural Douro, Faina Fluvial, as well as in the conclusive O Velho do Restelo; in films which deconstruct the tenets of a weak Romanticism, as Francisca, or O Dia do Desespero; in films which establish the horizons of a historical cinema, such as NON ou a Vã Glória de Mandar, and O Quinto Império: Ontem como Hoje; or in others, such as Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo, Porto da Minha Infância, and O Estranho Caso de Angélica, which, while bringing it to the fore, question the subjectivity of the authorial instance. It is therefore possible to affirm that in Oliveira the verb to see is politically conjugated (in a different way) in the present, and, nonconsensually, in the proposition of other modes of reviewing, thinking and acting.
António Preto holds a PhD in Film Studies from the Université Paris-Diderot – Paris 7, with a dissertation entitled Manoel de Oliveira: Cinéma et littérature (2011). He is Professor of Cinema and Audiovisual at Escola Superior Artística (Porto, Portugal) and at the Universidade Lusófona (Porto).
He has developed projects as curator and independent programmer. As far as his work on Manoel de Oliveira is concerned, it is worthwhile mentioning the editorial coordination and programming consultancy of the integral retrospective Manoel de Oliveira – Grande Plano (Câmara Municipal do Porto and Fundação de Serralves, 2015), and the curating of the exhibition Manoel de Oliveira/José Régio – Releituras e fantasmas (Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves and Centro de Memória de Vila do Conde, 2009-2010). Among his most recent publications are: Manoel de Oliveira (vol. 3/3), António Preto & João Fernandes, Porto, Serralves, 2014; Manoel de Oliveira/José Régio – Releituras e fantasmas, Porto, Serralves/Câmara Municipal de Vila do Conde, 2009; and Manoel de Oliveira: o cinema inventado à letra, 11th volume of the Colecção Público Serralves de Arte Contemporânea, Lisboa, Fundação de Serralves/Jornal Público, 2008.
He has coordinated seminars such as Manoel de Oliveira: O moderno paradoxal, Serralves (2008); and Literatura, Teatro e Cinema, UNESP – Universidade Estadual Paulista & USP – Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil (2012). As a critic, he often writes for the journal Cahiers du Cinéma.