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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Speak, Memory
by Donald Levit

Fiction or non-, based-on, inspired-by, or combined in docudrama, a good story well told most usually trumps famous actors sleepwalking (or even not) and hype. But box office still gravitates more to narrative than documentary, so in the Museum of Modern Art’s “The Contenders 2015 . . . bound for awards or destined to become a cult classic,” talked-about dramatic titles are sold out the maximum allowable two weeks in advance. Not quite so quickly lesser-known non-fictions like Memories and Confessions/Visita ou memórias e confissões.

Put together in 1982 and as a mater of fact quietly screened eleven years later at a Portuguese Cinemathèque retrospective, the film is only now officially premièring. That country’s late-blooming prolific director-scenarist Manoel de Oliveira stipulated that it be exhibited publically only after he was dead. Already seventy-three at the time, and calm but unhappy at his and wife Maria Isabel’s being forced out of their beloved Porto home of four decades by politics and finances, in the film he speaks directly into the lens about death, religion, governments, dictators, revolution and reaction, and the past. Surely he had no idea he would be around for another third of a century, to die this past April at 106, the world’s oldest, and still active, filmmaker.

Thus, like Twain in his disappointing punches-pulled autobiography and Brando in recent Listen to Me Marlon, the sole living figure who is seen aside from snippets of the wife in the garden, speaks as it were from beyond the grave. Urbane and most serious despite a reputation for cheeriness, natty in various sweaters, projecting home movies or pointing to scores of framed family photograph portraits and keepsakes, he gives the presumed future viewer a tour of himself as filmmaker-philosopher.

The author’s real seen screen presence is balanced by two unseen ones, an unnamed couple who approach and enter the “empty” house as return visitors. Their voices (Diogo Dória, Teresa Madruga) reflect curiosity as they explore the house, the camera trailing behind and showcasing it and its contents. The leisurely face-high lens-eye sees what they, and therefore we, see. A footfall or so, and one barely perceptible shadow alongside the wooden staircase, are their only “physical” presence, he pushing on, timid she full of imaginings and trepidation.

The lost doomed home is neat as a pin, decorated with paintings, seashells, some statues, but not anywhere as arresting as, say, those quirky three that Pablo Neruda and Matilde Urrutia named and furnished as Isla Negra, La Chascona and La Sebastiana, or the Casa Azul of Frida Kahlo. Thus, interest in this house beautiful tour must reside in the personality and presentation of the host. Said to have been most enthusiastic about cinema art, he is unfortunately cut-and-dry in these sixty-eight minutes, deadpan in relating dry facts about family history and giving his own personal beliefs and philosophy of life and death. The result is static in subject and approach, a cinema selfie with sound. Some memories might prove interesting; De Oliveira’s is not. One may not agree fully with Leslie Halliwell’s assessment that the documentary form survives by moving away from the slow and solemn towards “an agreeable blend of instruction and pleasure,” but in any case this respected director’s last relic after death is neither informative nor enjoyable.

(Released by IPC; not rated by MPAA.)

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