Porto of My Childhood (2001)
A Film by Manoel de Oliveira
DVD9 | ISO | PAL 16:9 | Cover | 00:57:48 | 5,01 Gb
Audio: Portuguese AC3 2.0 @ 224 Kbps | Subs: English, French, Italian Genre: Art-house, Drama
His family home has disappeared, the hanging tree has disappeared, and so have the candy stores, the Crystal Palace, and Guilhermina, his cousin and first love. This film brings to life memories from Manoel de Oliveira’s childhood. Manoel, a teenager (performed by the director’s own grandson), watches an opera from his parents’ theater booth. The boy sees what he will be eighty years later, the Manoel he is now, playing the part of an actor from the 20s, Estevo Amarante, who in turn plays the part of a thief who steals a woman’s heart…
Porto da Minha Infncia / Oporto of My Childhood (2001) is a sort of mixture of documentary and some simple drama, recreating the city of Oporto in the earlier 20th Century. It is where Manoel de Oliveira grew up and lived in his young adulthood. It is 61 minutes long. It shows striking imagery and visual style. It is sweet, and just plain gorgeous to look at.
My knowledge of Oliveira is limited, but still can see parallels to other works. This film especially resembles Voyage to the Beginning of the World (1997). Both feature long, spectacular moving camera sequences, going straight down long but curving and twisting roads - some of the visual highlights of both films. Both are set in Portugal, and both try to show locales that are revelatory or typical about that country. One can see somewhat similar tracking shots down Taiwanese streets in Goodbye South, Goodbye (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1996). The camera movements in Voyage to the Beginning of the World show country lanes, those in Oporto of My Childhood city streets, and feature richer architectural landmarks than the simple country dwellings in the earlier film.
Voyage to the Beginning of the World has a director-figure embedded in the story, who offers much commentary; Oporto of My Childhood has the director commenting directly on the sound track as narrator.
Both films have much about the dark fascist era of mid-Twentieth Century history, and all the tragedy it caused. Oporto of My Childhood seems far more hopeful about the future, however. The poem read on the soundtrack is inspiring. Its vision of a liberal Europe without nationalism, war or fights over borders is wonderful. We need more idealistic, utopian art like this, that can offer people visions.
There is also a scene from a play, as in I'm Going Home (2001). The play-within-the-play was the best part of I'm Going Home, although I did not care for the rest of that film much - it seemed awfully thin, and fairly defeatist. In Oporto of My Childhood, the play is more joyous, and Oliveira himself plays the role of the Thief in the stage comedy. Both works also show filmmaking going on.
Oporto of My Childhood also reminds one of the various memoirs of Jorge Luis Borges, that are scattered through his works. Both create a rich depiction of all the cultural life and ferment in their worlds in the 1920's-1940's - a glimpse of a now vanished but fascinating world. So many people here are poets, playwrights, architects or filmmakers. Everything in this world is handmade, and people seem to have no trouble considering themselves as artistic creators.
And of the romantic life of young men of the era. The big sites for romantic encounters are the local pastry shops. This reminds one of the little restaurants frequented by lovers in the films of Ernst Lubitsch. This festive locale makes a pleasant contrast to today's singles bars.
When directors less than half his age only manage one movie a year or less, 93 year-old Manoel de Oliveira has made two, this and I'm Going Home. (He's already finished yet another that we probably won't see until next year.) This hour-long pseudo-documentary reveals a scrapbook love-poem to Oliveira's hometown in Portugal. Scrabbling together old films, blurry photos, recreated period footage, poems and music, Oliveira shares his own memories of the way things used to be. It's a sweet and ramshackle treasure, much like Woody Allen's Radio Days.