DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLONDE-HAIRED GIRL (SINGULARIDADES DE UMA RAPARIGA LOURA) (director/writer: Manoel de Oliveira; screenwriter: based on a story by Eça de Queiroz; cinematographer: Sabine Lancelin; editors: Catherine Krassovsky/Manoel de Oliveira; music: Ana Paula Miranda; cast: Ricardo Trepa (Marcário), Catarina Wallenstein (Luisa), Leonor Silveira (Stranger), Diogo Doria (Francisco), Ana Paula Miranda (Herself), Luís Miguel Cintra (Himself), Miguel Seabra (Notary), Dona Vilaça (Luisa's mother); Runtime: 64; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jacques Arhex; Cinema Guild; 2009-Portugal-in Portuguese with English subtitles)

 
"A mesmerizing, charming and disturbing morality tale of doomed love."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

The 100-year-old prolific Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira ("Oporto of my Childhood"/"The Uncertainty Principle"/"A Talking Picture") latest is a bizarre arty pic that like a Buñuel film plays with our sensibilities in odd ways. In this case, the playful director tells us to be wary of blind love. It's based on a story by Portugal's great 19th century realist writer Eça de Queiroz, who died in 1900.

A nervous, well-dressed, handsome young man from Lisbon, Marcário (Ricardo Trêpa, de Oliveira's grandson), is on a long train ride to the coastal town of Algarve and decides to pass the time by telling the obliging stranger sitting next to him (Leonor Silveira, the director's longtime muse) his tale of woe and why he's in such an agitated state that his haughty benefactor Uncle Francisco (Diogo Doria) sent him away on a vacation. In flashback we hear that Marcário works in his Uncle Francisco's downtown upscale fabric store as an accountant. While working in the upstairs office one day, Marcário spots by the open window from an apartment building across the street a sultry young blonde named Luisa (Catarina Wallenstein). She is fanning herself with an exotic Chinese fan, which excites his imagination. The accountant manages to get a mutual acquaintance to introduce him to Luisa at the salon of a wealthy notary. Marcário courts the enigmatic beauty and asks his uncle permission to marry her. Permission is not granted and the suitor is angrily told that if he marries her he will lose his job and be disinherited. 

The earnest but foolish lad chooses to ask the temptress to marry him anyway, but can't get work and therefore holds off the wedding until he gets out of his financial mess. Desperate to get money, Marcário takes some kind of unnamed risky business proposition to fly to the volcanic islands in faraway Cape Verde in the hopes of raising enough money to be on his own. When after a series of adventures that has Marcário lose the fortune he gained in Cape Verde, the uncle softens his position towards his nephew and the marriage is about to take place. But the couple go shopping for a wedding ring, and Marcário discovers his bride-to-be is a compulsive shoplifter and ditches her.

It's a mesmerizing, charming and disturbing morality tale of doomed love, where the pompous romantic protagonist is longing for love with a beautiful woman he does not know at all and will suffer dearly from unrequited love because his passions blind him to reality.

Oliveira throws out warnings about love at first sight, as he shows the inexperienced young man has no clue on how to distinguish lust from love.

It's a beautifully crafted visual film that for the sake of art throws in a harp recital of a Debussy arabesque (courtesy of Ana Paula Miranda) and the reading of the Portuguese poet Pessoa's poem by the actor Luís Miguel Cintra at the notary's salon, along with the symbolic meanings of a lost poker chip during a poker game and someone upset about losing their hat. Oliveira playfully blends together art and commerce, showing how the world is driven by money-making, theft and foolish notions (as the eccentricities of the title comes about from society, as well as from the blonde-haired girl). It's a timeless film that's grounded in the formalities of the past and its bustling modern times seem oddly archaic, giving the film an out of this world look. It strangely takes us on a voyeuristic ride through the director's rarefied world and shows us a stark Lisbon that could be framed like a Georges de La Tour painting.

REVIEWED ON 9/17/2010       GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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