I'm Going Home
Still prolific at 93, Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira remains the only working filmmaker whose career began in the silent era, and his obstinate refusal to retire informs I'm Going Home, a plaintive and bittersweet rumination on artistry and death. For obvious reasons, these themes have been on de Oliveira's mind for a while, most notably in 1997's Journey To The Beginning Of The World, which had the added poignancy of including Marcello Mastroianni's final role, ending his career with a rare sense of closure. By far the livelier of the two moviesrelatively speaking, since de Oliveira tends to make films like a man twice his ageI'm Going Home greets the inevitability of death with remarkable candor and depth, as if the director no longer has the ability to mince words about it. Art and life intersect freely and meaningfully through the story, beginning with a 15-minute performance of Eugene Ionesco's play Exit The King, with de Oliveira alter ego Michel Piccoli starring in the title role. In a grim sign of things to come, the play trots out the aging ruler as a figure of folly, a once-proud man who has grown into a senile, decrepit, raving buffoon, still grasping at the last vestiges of his power. After this nightly reminder of his own mortality, Piccoli is hit with a double whammy backstage when two men in black suits inform him that his wife, daughter, and son-in-law have all died in a car accident. Treating the news with discretion, de Oliveira cuts to "Some Years Later," with Piccoli watching over his bereft grandson and continuing his sterling career on stage and in the movies. Though his agent (Antoine Chappey) begs him to take a lucrative part on a television action series, Piccoli refuses to compromise his integrity, even if it pushes him that much further into irrelevancy. But the pressure finally gets to him when he accepts a last-minute role in an English-language adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses, directed by American John Malkovich. Cycling through a wide spectrum of emotion, with pessimism on one end and grace on the other, I'm Going Home takes a powerfully ambivalent approach to its hero's waning years. De Oliveira spends no time on the accident, but the reality that Piccoli has lost most of his family (and, presumably, many of his friends) hangs over the later scenes, as does the feeling that his vitality and career have permanently ebbed. Yet Piccoli also knows how to eke pleasures from his daily routine, like his afternoon coffee at a local café or the few minutes of play he enjoys with his adoring grandson. More than anything, I'm Going Home expresses the importance of Piccoli's choice to exit on his own terms. From his wonderfully idiosyncratic bits of silent comedy at a storefront window to a brilliant one-take of Malkovich watching a calamitous scene unfold, de Oliveira seems determined to do the same.