Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
This past Thursday was Manoel De Oliveira’s 106th birthday. To put that in perspective: Oliveira is a Portuguese filmmaker who is older than both the feature film and the republic of Portugal; he’s not only the last living filmmaker to have started in the silent era and the last living person to have worked in silent movies as an adult, but the only figure in film history whose career spans from the silent age to the digital era. He began making movies in 1927, and still makes movies today.
The funny thing, though, is that Oliveira is also film history’s quintessential late bloomer. He didn’t get around to making his first feature until the 1940s; it wasn’t well received, and he spent the next few decades—most of an average adult life, really—running his family’s vineyard business, occasionally making documentary shorts on the side. Then he retired, and started making movies full-time—for pleasure. He had his international breakthrough at age 73, with the miniseries Doomed Love. Since then, he’s averaged a film a year.
Gebo And The Shadow—which had a brief theatrical run in the U.S. this year—is Oliveira’s most recent feature, an adaptation of a 1923 play by Raul Brandão, a writer who’s little-known outside of Portugal. Like almost all of Oliveira’s films, it works in a mode best described as “theatrical minimalism,” which has long, static takes with plenty of headroom. It also focuses on conversation over movement, with characters often seated around tables; an eccentric pace, with time sometimes passing non-realistically; a preference for handmade digital effects, which aren’t intended to create an illusion, but instead to engage some part of the viewer’s imagination.
The Gebo of the title is an elderly accountant played by Michael Lonsdale, who lives with his wife (Claudia Cardinale) and daughter-in-law (Leonor Silveira) in a dingy, dilapidated house in Porto, his days occasionally brightened by visits from a neighboring couple (Jeanne Moreau and Luís Miguel Cintra, a longtime—and always welcome—presence in Oliveira’s work). The Shadow could be a lot of things: the looming evil of the outside world; the fading, twilight existence Gebo and his family have long settled into; Gebo’s estranged son, João (Ricardo Trêpa, Oliveira’s grandson), a criminal whose return gives the movie its shape. This is Oliveira’s ascetic, totally unique vision of an old man—technically young enough to be the director’s son—trying to hide from the worst of the world, forced to confront it toward the end of his life.
Availability: Gebo And The Shadow hasn’t yet been released on U.S. digital or home-video platforms. An English-subtitled Blu-ray can be ordered from France.