You have to hand it to 89-year-old Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira.
Not only does he regularly make films when others have long retired, but his latest is an ambitious, tremendously satisfying experience. "Anxiety" (Inquietude) is visually superb, narratively complex and ultimately moving in ways few films even aspire to.
Alas, this supremely artistic effort -- a special screening selection at the Cannes film festival -- is not commercial enough to warrant more than a minor domestic U.S. release, but it's a sure-fire hit for the festival circuit.
A composite film with three distinct but interconnected sections, "Anxiety" opens with an exquisitely rendered tete-a-tete between a philosophically suicidal old man (Jose Pinto
) and his aging son (Luis Miguel Cintra) that tricks one into expecting a rich but stagey meditation on the bodily and mental deterioration that afflicts even the most well-respected and successful of men when they enter their autumn years.
Indeed, about 35 minutes in, both protagonists have fallen to their deaths, and the curtain falls on what has been a 1930s stage production of Helder Prista Monteiro's "The Immortals", with two well-heeled gents in the audience. The story picks up with the middle-aged unnamed "him" (Diogo Doria) and his younger "friend" (David Cardoso) becoming involved with a pair of high-class courtesans, picking up a thread from the play that the love of women can make men of any age feel young.
Mildly jealous of the more substantial patrons they must contend with, the two men develop a theory about Suzy (Leonor Silveira
) and Gabi (Rita Blanco
). Skilled in lovemaking, but essentially exotic caged animals, the beautiful sophisticates have inherited the stoic legacy of Marcus Aurelius
, taking pleasure in sacrifice.
In a melancholy, fatalistic confession, not-long-for-this-world Suzy reveals that "happiness is a small thing" when she has had everything else she's ever wanted in the way of fine living.
Late at night, the "friend" sets out to console "him" with a strange tale called "Mother of a River", based on a short story by Oliveira collaborator Agustina Bessa-Luis.
In this gorgeously composed finale, a socially constricted village girl (Leonor Baldaque
) turns to the mystical 1,000-year-old Mother (Irene Papas
) in a metaphorical suicide that results in the former being declared a witch and being chased off by a swarm of black-robed matrons. She turns away from the lover (Ricardo Trepa
) who encouraged her trying to break with traditions and becomes the new "Deep Water", magically merging with nature to become a guardian of humanity.
Madrago Filmes, Gemini Films,
Wanda Films and Light Night
Screenwriter-director: Manoel de Oliveira
Producer: Paulo Branco
Director of photography: Renato Berta
Art direction-costumes: Isabel Branco
Editor: Valerie Loiseleux
Sound: Philippe Morel, Jean-Francois Auger
Father: Jose Pinto
Son: Luis Miguel Cintra
Marta: Isabel Ruth
Him: Diogo Doria
Friend: David Cardoso
Suzy: Leonor Silveira
Gabi: Rita Blanco
Mother of a River
Mother: Irene Papas
Fisalina: Leonor Baldaque
The Fiance: Ricardo Trepa
Running time -- 112 minutes