Perhaps the most amazing thing about Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira isn't the fact that at 93 he's more prolific than ever, but that he continues to develop as a filmmaker. This is one of Oliveira's most engaging, most accessible films to date, and interestingly, it's about an aging actor who realizes his career is at an end. After the curtain falls...read more
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira isn't the fact that at 93 he's more prolific than ever, but that he continues to develop as a filmmaker. This is one of Oliveira's most engaging, most accessible films to date, and interestingly, it's about an aging actor who realizes his career is at an end. After the curtain falls on a production of Ionesco's Exit the King, the well known French actor Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli) comes off stage to some terrible news: His wife, daughter and son-in-law have all been killed in a car accident. Valence's 6-year-old grandson, Serge (Jean Koeltgen), is now in his care. Time passes, and Valence's life has assumed a comforting routine. He wakes each morning to watch Serge leave for school; in the afternoon, he has a cup of coffee and reads his newspaper at the same table in the same café. At night, Valence is currently appearing as yet another aging patriarch Prospero in Shakespeare's Tempest. Valence is in the world, but not really a part of it; his long-time agent, George (Antoine Chappey), suggests that he only lives through his characters. George tries to interest Valence in a possible TV series and points out that his pretty young Tempest co-star, Sylvia (Leonor Baldaque), has taken an interest in him, but Valence wants none of either; he's content to live alone with his memories and his grandson. A crisis, however, arises when Valence agrees to appear in a film adaptation of Joyce's Ulysses, directed by the American filmmaker John Crawford (John Malkovich). The original actor slated to play Buck Mulligan has been injured, and shooting is scheduled to begin in three days. Unprepared and unfamiliar with the English dialogue, Valence realizes that's it's finally time to go home. Oliveira's touch here is so light and his approach to shooting scenes so adventurous that it's not entirely apparent at first how sad this all is. Forever fascinated by performance and representation, Oliveira's films have in the past seemed seem willfully stagy, their relationship to "reality" questioned through modernist acting styles. Here, his main character is a stage actor and Oliveira makes the most of the opportunity: In a startling move, he devotes the first 15 minutes of the film to the final moments of Ionesco's play, and it's thrilling to watch. (Catherine Deneuve plays queen to Piccoli's king). He also makes the most of Piccoli, who's clearly at the top of his game as well.
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