De Oliveira has a habit of filming performances at odd levels. For example, in "Le roi meurt," Piccoli has his back to the camera the entire time. During a quarrel with his agent, only Piccoli's feet in his new shoes are shown. He bashes the heels against the pavement when he's mad, rocks them back and forth when he's pleased--it's all there. When he is playing Buck Mulligan in "Ulysses" we only hear his performance, and gauge it by the reactions on the face of the film director (John Malkovich). The lengths De Oliveira goes to to confound his actors' egos and the audience's expectations are inventive and a bit peculiar.
I sensed that this film was more about De Oliveira than about the characters in the story. There isn't much dialog and not much character development. The theme of the king who will not die, who is egomaniacal beyond reason, perhaps is De Oliveira talking to himself. He makes movies into his 90s because it is his habit. He should be dead by now, but he's not, and because of that he has watched everyone he loves die before him. The possibility of trying to start a new life with a young starlet that is offered to Piccoli must also have happened to De Oliveira. He won't make himself ridiculous that way. "I'm not Casals," the actor says when told of the musician's marriage at the age of 82 to a teenager. I can hear our director saying that, too.
What he wants to do is stop working, rest, and mourn his losses. This is, I feel, a personal film and all the more moving for it.