Film Review: Eccentricities of a Blonde Hair Girl

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Berlinale special
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BERLIN -- Probably the only filmmaker who has continued an active career all the way up to the age of 100, Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira regales fans of his work with an hourlong gem that illustrates, once again, the surreal coexistence of high culture and daily life. The unhappy love story of a young bookkeeper and a sultry young lady he spies through the window is playfully viewed through Oliveira's wry, worldly-wise lens. Less pulled-together than "Belle Toujours" but in that vein, "Eccentricities of a Blond" will appeal to the same small coterie of fans.

Typically unconcerned about disguising the literary origin of his source, Oliveira adapted the script from a story by Portuguese realist Eco di Queiroz. The tale is framed by a train journey in which a distressed young man, Macario (Riccardo Trepa), tells the stranger sitting next to him (Leonor Silveira) about his unhappy love story.

In a timeless Lisbon, Macario works as an accountant for his uncle, who owns an expensive fabric store. One day a pretty girl living across the street, Luisa (Catarina Wallenstein), catches his eye as she plays with a Chinese fan. He instantly falls in love and determines to marry her. The girl and her mother agree, but the boy's uncle, on whom he depends economically, refuses to hear of a marriage. He kicks Macario out of the house and, being jobless, the boy is forced to travel to Cape Verde to make his fortune and marry his beloved. Alas, it is not that simple.

Oliveira once again creates his special world of Portuguese literature and high culture, where there is nothing strange in devoting a few minutes to having harpist Ana Paula Miranda, as herself, play some Debussy in a drawing room, or letting actor Luis Miguel Cintra, playing himself, read a bit of poetry by Pessoa. These cultured interludes are handled so gracefully that they barely interrupt the narrative flow.

What exactly is the film about? That's something for viewers to discuss over a good cigar and a glass of port, perhaps. The key line, "Commerce shuns sentimental accountants," suggests the impossibility of wedding love and money. Given that the film has one of the most abrupt endings imaginable, the audience is left with ample scope to ponder Oliveira's theme and the mystery behind Luisa's fan.

Production companies: Filmes Do Tejo II, Les Films De l'Apres-midi, Eddie Saeta
Cast: Ricardo Trepa, Catarina Wallenstein, Diogo Doria, Julia Buisel, Leonor Silveira, Luis Miguel Cintra, Gloria De Matos
Director: Manoel de Oliveira
Screenwriter: Manoel de Oliveira
Producers:  Francois d'Artemare, Maria Joao Mayer, Luis Minarro
Executive producer: Jacques Arhex
Director of photography: Sabine Lancelin
Production designers: Christian Marti, Jose Pedro Penha
Costumes: Adelaide Maria Trepa
Editor: Manoel de Oliveira, Catherine Krassovsky
Sales: Pyramide International

No rating, 63 minutes