The Uncertainty Principle

One of the most remarkable things about Manoel de Oliveira, now in his 90s, is the supple way in which he’s been shifting gears between features. This film follows I’m Going Home, which focused on France and the theater; here he takes up Portugal and the novel, adapting Agustina Bessa-Luis’s Joai de familia. This is the fourth Oliveira film based on Bessa-Luis’s workthe others are Francisca (1981), Valley of Abraham (1993), and the third episode of Inquietude (1998)and she also furnished the original idea for The Convent (1995) and the dialogue for Party (1996). Valley of Abraham was something of an update of Madame Bovary, and in some ways this feature suggests a gothic version of Henry James. Beautifully shot by Renato Berta, effectively accompanied by bursts of Paganini, it deals with a modern-day, apparently innocent young heroine (the film’s title refers mainly to the ambiguity of her innocence), the daughter of a compulsive gambler who compares herself to Joan of Arc and winds up in an arranged marriage with a corrupt, well-to-do man who brings her to live in the same house as his brothel-owning mistress. This is more difficult than other recent Oliveira films because of the slow, highly stylized mise en scene, with characters often looking past one another, which evokes Dreyer’s Gertrud, and because of its old-fashioned mannerist treatment of decadence, which suggests late Bressonand in one visual trope, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. It’s haunting, weird, and exquisite. In Portuguese with subtitles. 132 minutes. (JR)

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