In the theatrical teaser/trailer the movie was shown as the story (or part of it) of King Sebastião, a King obsessed by the memory of his predecessors and the desire of achieving the greatness they once possessed, guiding Portugal to a Portuguese empire, the Fifth Empire. However, the present kingdom is poor, the greatness of old days is gone and the wealth that Portugal once had (in the discovery days) is lost.
This is the center of the movie: a character in a difficult position, playing with different thoughts and realities, to the point of not knowing reality anymore. The concept is in itself very fascinating since this is the basis of one of the great Portuguese legends: after the decision of going to war King Sebastião is tragically killed, and although he never returns to is home country it is said that one day he will appear, in a morning, coming out of the fog, leading Portugal to glory. Now,in opposition to the lyrical tale, is the king of Manuel de Oliveira (and José Régio), lost in his own mind, a man with a weakened body and soul.
All the above is what the movie could be, not necessarily what it is. This is because when it comes to the chosen format for the movie everything gets of the track; it is in fact based in a theater piece, conceived by José Régio, and transposed to the cinema. Well, we all know that cinema and theater are similar in some ways but also very diverging and, for instance, whilst you have the direct confrontation of the actors with the audience in a theater piece, in the cinema the spectator is free from this pressure. That's why the director, the actors performance, the editing and the soundtrack are so determining; everything is combined to promote some kind of linking between the spectator and what he is seeing. When the representation methods are transposed directly from one to the other something get's lost; and of course, in such a restricted universe there's not much maneuver opportunities for the director. That's why the movie is so slow, so boring, why the dialogs are so thick, why the camera hardly moves (I counted one pan, apart from that everything happens just like in a theater) and why the actors almost look at the camera. The psychological depth of the character is swallowed by the format in which it is presented. Instead of a contemporary work we have something that could'v been done 50 years ago,like those traditional Shakespearean plays.
Well, the theater is the theater and the cinema the cinema; and the chances were few of this being a strong movie, with the brand of Manuel de Oliveira. For those that don't know, he is a well known Portuguese director, not only in his own country but also in the rest of Europe, were he has received several awards.The fact that he has a strong reputation certainly helps promoting the movie, and it was the main thing that made me see it. However, it doesn't matter from how much different angles we look at this, the same conclusion appears: it is a poor movie.
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