The Strange Case of Angelica
Manoel de Oliveira took his time with this spirited romance, which he conceived while in his forties and got around to directing at the age of 101; it was well worth the wait. Isaac (Trêpa) is an old-school shutterbug living in the modern-day Douro region of Portugal who is summoned one evening to an aristocratic family’s mansion to photograph their recently deceased daughter. Her name is Angelica (López de Ayala), and as Isaac takes her picture, she appears to come to life in his lens.
We think we’re in for a weighty, Hitchcockian treatise on artistic obsession; Oliveira’s intentions are a bit more impish, however, though no less profound. Angelica regularly appears to Isaac as an apparition, tempting him with high-flying visions of the Great Beyond (there’s a gorgeous sequence where they soar over the countryside like characters in a Méliès short). Yet the film mostly keeps to the mortal realm, its stunningly composed images showing how Isaac is himself something of a ghost—given to staring off into the distance, being condescended to by those around him, a man perpetually outside the times. What he needs is to take that one extra step toward his spectral siren; the scene in which he does so might be one of the most exhilarating visions of death’s sweet embrace ever filmed.
The Strange Case of Angelica is at the Brattle Theatre Feb. 11–17.