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Manoel de Oliveira: Talking Pictures

Sunday, September 28, 2008
3:30 p.m. Abraham’s Valley
Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal/France/Switzerland, 1993)

New Print

(Vale Abraão). Abraham’s Valley is a rethinking of Madame Bovary, set in Portugal in the twentieth century. Oliveira’s Ema, like Flaubert’s heroine, marries without love, and takes a series of lovers drawn to and frightened by her legendary beauty. Ema’s own yearnings, revealed by a knowing narrator, are intense but imprecise: she desires primarily to be desired. Her longings lead her toward an ever more constricted existence. The narrator takes us beneath the lush surface of reality to suggest the tragedy of Ema’s isolation and thwarted dreams. Her “doomed love” is the inevitable result of her romanticism, yet Oliveira suggests the human need for desire, even when unfulfilled. Oliveira has created the cinematic equivalent of the nineteenth-century novel, not through the illusionism of classic cinema, but rather through the stylized accumulation of visual and psychological detail that both reveals Ema and renders her a mystery.

—Kathy Geritz

• Written by Oliveira, based on the novel by Agustina Bessa-Luís. Photographed by Mário Barroso. With Leonor Silveira, Cecile Sanz de Alba, Luís Miguel Cintra, Rui de Carvalho. (203 mins, In Portuguese with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Lusomundo)