(director/writer: Manuel de Oliveira; cinematographer: Mário Barroso; editors: Valérie Loiseleux/Manuel de Oliveira; music: Richard Wagner; cast: Teresa Madruga (Ana Plácido), Mário Barroso (Camilo Castelo Branco),Luís Miguel Cintra (Freitas Fortuna), Diogo Dória (Dr. Edmundo Magalhães); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paulo Branco; Luso Mundo/PAL format; 1992-Portugal/France-in Portuguese)

A minor film in the great director’s opus, but still an effective one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The world’s oldest living working filmmaker, born in 1908, the acclaimed Portuguese director-writer Manuel de Oliveira (“Abraham’s Valley”/”Belle Toujours”/”The Convent”), in this well-produced and acted arthouse drama earnestly portrays the final days of his country’s prolific and arguably greatest 19th-century author, Camilo Castelo Branco (Mário Barroso), who lived from 1825 to 1890. The director was an admirer of the author, but is not afraid to portray him as a whiny, depressed and self-absorbed man, who led a scandalous life with many mistresses while wearing always a crucifix around his neck given him by an important church leader. The biopic is told through the subject’s letters, his mistress Ana Plácido’s (Teresa Madruga) point of view and the re-enactment of several critical events in the latter part of his life–including the despondent blind author fatally shooting himself while sitting in his rocking chair on June 1, 1890, after a visit from a faraway ophthalmologist who refused to treat him until his health improved. At the end we are left with his haunting words “What I love most is death.”

Though indisputably a great writer, the author’s life was dismal. His mistresses bore him three sons, but he never formed a good relationship with any of them. We learn his mistress Ana left her husband falsely thinking she could change his wanton ways, and married him only when he needed the marriage to receive the title of viceroy from the monarchy.

A minor film in the great director’s opus, but still an effective one.