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Manoel de Oliveira, a celebrated Portuguese movie director believed to be the world’s oldest filmmaker, has died, authorities said. He was 106.
The city council of Porto, where Oliveira was born and lived, announced his death Thursday on its website. It did not provide further details.
Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said in a statement that Oliveira “was a central figure in the international projection of Portuguese cinema and, through films, of Portuguese culture and its vitality.” President Anibal Cavaco Silva said in a televised address that “Portugal has lost one of the greatest figures of its contemporary culture.”
Oliveira’s final film, a short feature called The Old Man of Belem, had its premiere in November in Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, and was shown at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
Oliveira’s career began with a silent documentary about Porto in 1931. He made his first feature-length movie in 1942, but his work was sporadic until he was 76, when he began directing roughly one film a year.
Despite his huge output — more than 30 feature films and dozens of short films and documentaries — he achieved broad international recognition only in the 1990s and was best known as an art cinema auteur. He was more than 100 when his last feature film, Gebo and the Shadow, came out in 2012. The French-language film starred Michael Lonsdale, Claudia Cardinale and Jeanne Moreau.
Oliveira’s longevity allowed his unique, often eccentric style to be increasingly appreciated by new generations of serious filmgoers and festival patrons. His reputation and influence only grew with the passing years, as his unshakable humanism and firm commitment to culture burnished his image as one of European cinema’s loftiest masters.
Oliveira was a regular at Cannes — where three of his movies were nominated for the festival’s top Palme d’Or prize — and other European festivals.
But it wasn’t until 1994 that the adulation of audiences at such festivals made it possible for him to shoot a feature with international stars — The Convent, with Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich. Since then, he had worked with such legendary European actors as Michel Piccoli in I’m Going Home and Marcello Mastroianni in the actor’s final film, Voyage to the Beginning of the World.
Cannes awarded him a Golden Palm for lifetime achievement in 2008, and the Venice Film Festival gave him Career Golden Lions in 1985 and 2004.
“Manoel de Oliveira is very, very special,” Deneuve said in 2005 when Oliveira was already approaching 100. “He works all the time, he writes the script during the night.”
In 1996, at the Venice festival, Oliveira said he had no plans to slow his work rate. “I’m in a hurry. I have too many stories to tell,” he said.
He called his work “a reflection on humanity” and believed that all films were an immaterial representation of life. Inspired by other art forms, especially the theater and literature, Oliveira’s films are typically littered with references to everything from the Bible and Dante to conventional genres. Movies like Francisca (1981), The Satin Slipper (1985), The Cannibals (1988) and The Valley of Abraham (1993) are masterful and playful works of encyclopedic breadth and learning whose intellectual excitement stunned their audiences.
Oliveira was born Dec. 11, 1908. A Portuguese pole vault champion and a racing driver in his youth, his movie career began in 1931 with his 18-minute silent documentary Hard Labor on the River Douro, about the harsh daily life conditions of river workers in Porto. The work is regarded as a classic of avant-garde cinema.
His first feature-length movie, Aniki-Bobo, was a hit in Portugal but its neo-realism drew the attention of the then-dictatorship’s secret police, known by its acronym PIDE, which suspected him of subversion.
The PIDE later held Oliveira without charge and interrogated him for 10 days before releasing him. The government of Antonio Salazar refused to give him funding for his film projects, and the censors rejected his scripts.
“I never had any political urges or activity,” he said, “but they hated me all the same.”
Oliveira also lost out in the 1974 military coup that toppled the dictatorship and installed democracy. Workers at the small textile factory he had inherited from his father seized control and ran the company into bankruptcy.
He is survived by his wife, Maria Isabel, four children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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