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The film shows a recreation of an "Auto", an ancient passion play (the passion refers to Christ's arrest and execution), produced by Portugese villagers and re-run for Portugese director Manoel de Oliveira's cameras. Manoel is, incredibly, still making films well over a century since he was born.
The film is shot entirely in the open air. It includes shots of the film crew shooting, and idle passers-by come to watch. The film's gives us three time-lines, the time of Christ's death, the world of Francisco Vaz De Guimaraes, the 16th writer of the play, and the year the film was shot. I think it's probably the best attempt at transparency a filmmaker can make.
I heard that this film required the occasional suspension of disbelief and so I had a couple of drinks before the showing at the London Film Festival to mellow out during the viewing. I guess it worked because I didn't find anything ridiculous. Indeed I can't think of anything less pretentious than these Portugese villagers performing their play. I think it presents faith in an extremely palatable way, and is at times deeply moving. Although essentially a documentary, de Oliveira occasionally brings in some nifty camera-work and the occasional special effect. The sheer simplicity of the villagers speaks volumes, and reminds me of Mark Chapter 10 verse 15 "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it".
Aside from the faith aspects, the film is very beautiful and captures a lovely quality of light, of a late Mediterranean afternoon. Not wanting to spoil the ending, I shall just say it was magnificent and lovely.
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