Eccentricities Of A Blonde Haired Girl (Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura)
Portugal (2009) Dir. Manoel de Oliveira
On a train heading to Algarve a young accountant, Macário (Ricardo Trêpa), tells the lady (Leonor Silveira) he is sitting next to why he is in such a downbeat mood. It revolves around Macário working for his uncle Francisco (Diogo Dória) doing the books in a small office above Francisco’s textile shop in Lisbon. At the window opposite Luisa (Catarina Wallerstein) appears with her ever present Chinese fan and for Macário it is love at first sight and the start of a run of very bad luck.
Clocking in a just over an hour this is an idiosyncratic but stylish slice of old fashioned storytelling which comes with a slightly frustration sudden ending. But the most fascinating aspect about this film is that its director Manoel de Oliveira was a sprightly 101 years-old when filming took place (he’ll be 104 in December this year) and is still active today. Oliveira started his career in 1927 with shorts and documentaries before making his first feature Aniki-Bóbó in 1942 which sadly was a flop forcing Oliveira to step away from films until 1955 with a series of shorts. It wasn’t until 1962 that he made another feature Rite of Spring and was intermittent with full length films until the 1990’s when he suddenly became more prolific in his output.
This film is based on a short story by 19th-century writer Eça de Quieroz which is fairly simple in its plotline but Oliveira puts a little Buñuel-esque twist on the narrative. Macário is a straight laced young man who has lived a pampered existence under his uncle but upon seeing and falling for Luisa, dissension appears in the ranks when Macário asks for permission to marry Luisa and is denied. He leaves Francisco to live on his own but without any money he feels unworthy of Luisa until a friend offers him a job the Cape Verde islands which will see him earn some big bucks. But another slap in the face is just around the corner for our hapless Romeo.
The title is slightly ironic since we don’t learn of any eccentricities of Luisa until the final act yet the film itself is full of them. The behaviour, moral values and attitudes of the characters suggest 19th century and even some of the settings verify this yet the clothes, money (in Euros) and modern day facets and accoutrements are prominent. Perhaps that is what Oliveira was hoping to achieve: an old fashioned romance tale told in a modern fashion with one foot in the past in tribute to its source material.
Eccentricities Of A Blonde-haired Girl may achieve all it needs to inside an hour but there is a sense of “Is that it?” when the credits begin to roll, making this either an extended short film or a abbreviated feature length film. Either way, it is not without its charm and provides a nice little distraction and shows that you’re never too old to delight a film audience.