Film Scouts Reviews

"Convento, O (The Convent)"

by Henri Béhar

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"I had no particular reason to make this movie," said Portugese director Manoel de Oliveira when "The Convent" was world-premiered at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Perhaps he was responding to Catherine Deneuve's desire to work with him (in this particular instance, *she* approached him). Or perhaps, after a number of philosophical epics ("The Satin Slipper") and analytical works ("Valley of Abraham"), he wanted to go back to the (relative) fantasy that marked his earlier "The Cannibals"--not to be confused with Liliana Cavani's movie of the same title--and explore the daily challenge of "an ordinary life", i.e. a life in which good and evil, God and the Devil are in "perfect or ideal symbiosis".

Don't worry, it's not as threatening as it sounds.

When Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich arrive at the Arrabida convent run by Luis-Miguel Cintra, the couple, divided by language and culture, also seems to be on the skids. She's just accompanying her husband who's come to do some research on William Shakespeare who, according to him (and he is sure documents in the convent library will definitely prove it) was actually a Sepharadic Spanish Jew with an unpronounceable name.

Deneuve is soon jealous of the time Malkovich spends with Piedade ("Piety"), the young library assistant whose beauty is always referred to as "pure", or engaged in philosophical debate with Cintra who's more interested in laying his mephistophelian charm on Deneuve.

Just when you feel you're in some sort of a drawing-room comedy, de Oliveira pulls a fast one: the dark, deserted corridors suddenly appear endless, the music goes almost horror-movie style, and the game will consist in toing-and-froing between myth-playing and sensual tease.

It's all the bolder and more merrily youthful as Manoel de Oliveira is 87 -- but you wouldn't know it from his filmmaking, IF you just give in to it. Or else, as was the case for Luis Bunuel's newly re-released "Belle De Jour" (also with Deneuve!) you'll have to wait another twenty years to really appreciate it.

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