CAPSULE: This film is a Portuguese fantasy written and directed by Manoel de Oliveira. The pace is operatic and slow enough so that there is not much story here. Some dreamlike photography and a soothing musical score are pluses but slow, draggy telling is likely to frustrate the viewer and pay off with far too little reward for the effort of watching. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Spoiler Warning: There is so little happening in this film to move the story forward that even saying what the film is about is most of the plot.
Manoel de Oliveira is the oldest known film director still working. He was born December 11, 1908. That makes him just short of 103 as of this writing; he was 101 when me made this film. If he is slowing down, it is not enough to stop him from directing. But if he is, it is showing up in his films. A scene will carry on for roughly twice as long as most filmmakers would allow it, frequently just letting the camera linger over a not very engaging setting with no action. This means that there is not really much story being told. If I recount nearly anything at all of the plot, it will probably reveal most of the story.
De Oliveira's story, set in the rural Douro Valley of northern Portugal, tells of Isaac (played by Ricardo Trepa), a Sephardic Jew. He is a professional photographer called in the middle of the night on an emergency job. A woman, Angelica (Pilar López de Ayala), has died on her wedding day and her family needs a photograph of the dead girl, a memento mori of the recently deceased. The devout Catholic family is at first unsure they want a Jew for the job. But it is an emergency. As Isaac looks through his lens at the beautiful corpse he sees or imagines he sees her smile at him. He is immediately smitten with love for her and for days after he is obsessed with his memories of the beautiful--yes, angelic--face.
Ironically, Isaac, an outsider in this area, is interested in the old ways of living. The people who live in the area are more modern thinkers. Isaac is fascinated by photographing laborers as they work in a field as they have for centuries. His landlady believes that is foolish. After all, that work is embarrassing. As she tells some friends or boarders over the dinner table, that sort of work is and should be done by machines today.
Quite unexpectedly for de Oliveira there are some visual effects. Somehow that does not seem his usual style (though admittedly I have actually seen only one of his other films, I'M GOING HOME). His style seems too organic to for visual effects. But while his effects may be technical, the images he creates with them remind one of effects in George Melies's silent films and the images he creates remind one of surrealist Mark Chagall. The slow pacing is matched with soft piano music and more often silence.
This is both a romance and a ghost story, but fans of neither genre will get much to satisfy them is what is really too sparse a film for its own good. I rate THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It makes little sense to call this film THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA. If anything it should be THE STRANGE CASE OF ISAAC. Only Isaac knows that Angelica is at all involved.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1282153/
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/leeper-angelica
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper