by Ken B.
Manoel de Oliveira’s Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl can be called freely moving by its supporters and meandering by its detractors. While the title serves as an accurate describing component of the central plot, which further consists of a man (Ricardo Trêpa) recounting an episode of his life in which he was overwhelmingly captivated by a mysterious blonde woman (Catarina Wallenstein), the short 63 minute film moves at a unique rate, allowing components to be filled in (or not) via brief sparks of scenes, composed around a framing device where the man, Macário, tells his story to an older woman while they ride a train to the Algarve, a region in the south of Portugal. de Oliveira, who was over 100 years old when he made this film and died earlier in the month of this writing (April 2015) aged 106, doesn’t direct with the flair or style of a man who has experience in cinema dating back to the final days of the silent era, but rather with the perspective of a veteran who has become so acquainted with the capabilities of himself and his art that he is able to make something slight yet peculiar – a sign to an ever-changing cinema cityscape that he wasn’t done quite yet.
Framed and lit by cinematographer Sabine Lancelin in a soft quality and shot through film or a film-like digital substitute, de Oliveira seems uninterested in a crisp technical polish, melodic plot structures, or even at times plot itself (this can be a problem), instead choosing to examine his main character thoroughly, regardless of what the mandates around him may be. The mood created by this is at once warmly enveloping and infuriatingly difficult. Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl is a movie that doesn’t really care who it ticks off, except without the self-absorbed abstractness that a director like Godard would have brought to it. At least de Oliveira makes a straightforward ramble, and one that is washed in pretty colors and a classically-minded romance at its heart (that of the man and the elusive woman that got away). It may be an hour long, but de Oliveira doesn’t use that as an excuse to make a quick movie from a perceptional standpoint, which can be good if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.
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