Film Scouts Reviews

"Viagem ao princípio do mundo (Voyage to the Beginning of the World)"

by David Sterritt

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I've gotten into a tiff or two over de Oliveira's picture, which I find much stronger in its second half than in its first. The opening scenes chronicle an automobile trip into Portugal taken by an aging film director--played by the late Marcello Mastroianni and clearly based on de Oliveira himself--with an actor friend of Portuguese ancestry who wants to rediscover his family roots. The on-screen director gives long, leisurely, generally uninteresting monologues about the school he went to, the discipline he suffered as a child, and so on, while his entourage listens raptly and reverently; not since Akira Kurosawa's maddening "Madedayo" inched its way through Cannes have I seen such a clear example of a truly great filmmaker exploiting his (totally deserved) elder status to indulge personal interests and memories that simply don't count for much with people who aren't close friends or longtime associates. Defenders of this material justify it as self-portraiture on de Oliveira's part, but while this is certainly a legitimate argument, it remains true that even great artists may produce both major self-portraits and minor self-portraits; in my view this is a minor one, de Oliveira's huge artistic stature and fascinating professional history notwithstanding. Fortunately, the film becomes very involving and touching once the Mastroianni/de Oliveira character fades largely out of the screenplay and the actor-figure has a long, tragicomic encounter with an elderly aunt who knows the family's history by heart but isn't sure she wants to share it with a member of the clan who's never bothered to learn Portuguese, and who works in the degraded profession of TV acting to boot. Approaching his 90th birthday, de Oliveira still has the skills of a master, and I mean no disrespect for his awesome abilities when I note that he only shows them in the latter portion of his latest film.

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