Manoel De Oliveira, the Portugese filmmaker who for so many years appeared to defy the laws of gravity and physics, has died at the age of. At 106 he was, by some measure, the world’s oldest active filmmaker, working up until last year when his final film, The Old Man Of Belem, premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
Born in 1908, De Oliveira’s productivity — he directed 29 films in all — is remarkable given he had only made two films by the time he was 55. The latter half of his long and critically acclaimed career would see him earn a dozen career achievement prizes from major film festivals, including two career Golden Lions (1985 and 2004) and a Special Jury Prize for 1991’s The Divine Comedy at Venice and two more career awards at Berlin (1981 and 2009). At Cannes, he won the Jury Prize for The Letter in 1999, earned FIPRESCI Prizes in 1990 and 1997 and received an Honorary Golden Palm in 2008.
Unapologetically art house and cerebral in taste, De Oliveira confounded his peers with both his longevity as well as the consistency of his output in his latter years. He got better with age, making a film a year once he turned 80 until his death. He might not even be finished just yet: He is reputed to have insisted that one of his films, Memories And Confessions, not be shown publicly while he was alive.
De Oliveira was born into privilege. His industrialist father, amongst other things, produced Portugal’s first electric light bulb. Finding himself out of favor under the iron rule of Portugul’s Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar from 1932-1968, De Oliveira found it similarly difficult under the socialist government in the early 1970’s as his upper class roots counted against him. Nevertheless, he persisted with his dream to become a filmmaker, even while he managed his family’s factory well into middle age.
In time De Oliveira moved from the neorealist verite style that categorised his early work — his debut feature was Aniki-Bobo in 1942 about the slums of his hometown Porto — eventually gave way to a more formal, literary approach often dealing with themes of unrequited and unfulfilled love. He often adapted literary works, including four books by Agustina Bessa-Luis.
He worked with many fine actors, including Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich, Michel Piccoli, Jeanne Moreau, Claudia Cardinale and also Marcello Mastroianni in the iconic Italian actor’s final role in Voyage To The Beginning Of The World.