Manoel de Oliveira

11 Dec 1908
2 Apr 2015
Film Industry
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Manoel Cândido Pinto de Oliveira GCSE, GCIH ( 11 December 1908 – 2 April 2015) was a Portuguese film director and screenwriter born in Cedofeita, Porto. He first began making films in 1927, when he and some friends attempted to make a film about World War I.

In 1931 he completed his first film Douro, Faina Fluvial, a documentary about his home city Porto made in the city symphony genre. He made his feature film debut in 1942 with Aniki-Bóbó and continued to make shorts and documentaries for the next 30 years, gaining a minimal amount of recognition without being considered a major world film director. Among the numerous factors that prevented Oliveira from making more films during this time period were the political situation in Portugal, family obligations and money.

In 1971 Oliveira made his second feature narrative film Past and Present, a social satire that both set the standard for his film career afterwards and gained him recognition in the global film community. He continued making films of growing ambition throughout the 1970s and 1980s, gaining critical acclaim and numerous awards. Beginning in late 1980s he was one of the most prolific working film directors and made an average of one film per year past the age of 100.

In March 2008 he was reported to be the oldest active film director in the world, and was possibly the second oldest film director ever after George Abbott, who lived to be 107 and 7 months. He was also the only filmmaker whose active career spanned from the silent era to the digital age.

Among his numerous awards were the Career Golden Lion from the 61st Venice International Film Festival, the Special Lion for the Overall Work in the 42nd Venice International Film Festival, an Honorary Golden Palm for his lifetime achievements in 2008 Cannes Film Festival, and the French Legion of Honor.

Oliveira was born on 11 December 1908 in Porto, Portugal, to Francisco José de Oliveira and Cândida Ferreira Pinto. His family were wealthy industrialists and agricultural landowners. His father owned a dry-goods factory, produced the first electric light bulbs in Portugal and built an electric energy plant before he died in 1932. Oliveira was educated at the Colegio Universal in Porto before attending a Jesuit boarding school in Galicia, Spain.

As a teenager his goal was to become an actor. At 17, he joined his brothers as an executive in his father’s factories, where he remained for the majority of his adult life when not making films. In a 1981 Sight and Sound article, John Gillett describes Oliveira as having “spent most of his life in business … making films only when circumstances allowed.”

From an early age, Oliveira was interested in the poverty of the lower classes, the arts and especially films. While he named D. W. Griffith, Eric von Stroheim, Charlie Chaplin, Max Linder, Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc and Sergei Eisenstein’s The General Line as early influences, he was also disappointed to have virtually no Portuguese filmmakers to emulate.

The Portuguese film industry was also highly censored and restricted under the fascist Salazar regime that lasted from the early 1930s until the mid-1970s. His later films, such as The Cannibals and Belle Toujours (a sequel to Belle de Jour), suggest an affinity with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

He stated “I’m closer to Buñuel. He’s a reverse Catholic and I was raised a Catholic. It’s a religion that permits sin, and Buñuel at the very deepest is one of the most moralistic directors but he does everything to the contrary. I never say that I’m Catholic because to be Catholic is very difficult. I prefer to be thought of as a great sinner.”

Manoel de Oliveira married Maria Isabel Brandão de Meneses de Almeida Carvalhais (born 1918) in Porto on December 4, 1940. They had four children: Manuel Casimiro Brandão Carvalhais de Oliveira (a painter born in 1941 known as Manuel Casimiro), Jose Manuel Brandão Carvalhais de Oliveira (born 1944), Maria Isabel Brandão Carvalhais de Oliveira (born 1947) and Adelaide Maria Brandão Carvalhais de Oliveira (born 1948). He has several grandchildren, including actor Ricardo Trêpa through his youngest daughter.

In his younger days, Oliveira competed as a race car driver. During the 1937 Grand Prix season he competed in and won the International Estoril Circuit race, driving a Ford V8 Special.

Manoel de Oliveira was chosen to give the welcoming speech at Pope Benedict XVI’s meeting with representatives of the Portuguese cultural world on May 12, 2010, at the Belém Cultural Center. In the speech, titled “Religion and Art”, he said that morality and art may well have derived from the religious attempt at “an explanation of the existence of human beings” with regard to their “concrete insertion in the Cosmos”.

The arts “have always been strictly linked to religions” and Christianity has been “prodigal in artistic expressions”. In an interview published the day before, Oliveira, who was raised a Catholic, said that, “doubts or not, the religious aspect of life has always accompanied me,” and added, “All my films are religious.”

For several years before Oliveira’s death, a feature film called A Igreja do Diabo (The Church of the Devil) was being developed. In an interview conducted less than five months before Oliveira’s death, Oliveira had plans for future films.

In July 2012, Oliveira spent a week in hospital to treat a respiratory infection and congestive heart failure. Oliveira died in Porto on 2 April 2015, aged 106. He was survived by a wife, four children, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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