Born on the 12th of December 1908 in Oporto, Portugal, Manoel Candido Pinto de Oliveira is currently the oldest movie director in action. Even though he wanted to become an actor when he was younger, his dreams eventually changed and he made his first film, “Douro, Faina Fluvial” when he was 23. This was a short documentary dedicated to his hometown, a sort of city symphony film, where he showed how life was in that region. Focused mainly on the fishing industry and the scenery of the Douro river, the idea for the film was prompted by Oliveira’s discovery of Walther Ruttmann’s documentary “Berlin: Symphony of a City”. He considered that the most useful lesson he had in film technique was given by Ruttmann. After “Douro, Faina Fluvial”, he made several shorts also depicting different regions of Portugal.
In 1942 he did his first feature film, “Aniki-Bóbó” based on a short story by Rodrigo de Freitas, the film talks about the life of Oporto’s street children and to portray them Oliveira used non-professional actors. The film was poorly received by the audience and made Oliveira abandon film projects that he was involved in for a while. It took some time for Oliveira to actually be recognized as a great director even in his own country. Due to the fascist Salazar regime that lasted between the early 1930s until the mid-1970s, the Portuguese film industry was highly censored and very restrict, which made it hard for Oliveira to make films during that period. Oliveira said he took his inspiration from several other directors such as D.W.Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein and Charlie Chaplin, his only regret is that there weren’t other Portuguese filmmakers that he could have had as his role model.
After the Fascist period, Oliveira was able to do more films, flourish as a filmmaker and finally receive international acclaim. He currently does an average of one film per year and he is one of few directors that has had his work ranged from the silent era to the digital age, which is a major achievement.
In 1985 Oliveira made his first French film, “The Satin Slipper” (Le Soulier de Satin), based on a Paul Claudel’s play. This movie took two years to be completed and it is rarely shown in its whole, due to its length (seven hours).
Regarding his film technique, Oliveira is known by not making much movement with the camera, instead he lets the action roll leaving the camera steady, this has become his trademark. He is also very specific with the mise-en-scéne and the way he wants the actors to act. For him, they should be very theatrical and unnatural.
Manoel de Oliveira has gathered a great share of awards from the Cannes Film Festival to the Venice Film Festival and many others around the world, including lifetime achievement awards in the Chicago International Film Festival and in the Cameraimage for film direction with unique visual sensitivity. Even for a director of this calibre, the sole thing that matters is the pleasure he has when making films, regardless of any critical reception he might have afterwards.
ÉCU hopes that this director will continue to make films and surprise its audience for many years to come!