Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)
This short (64-minute), rather slight film, directed by the 100-year old Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira, is one of the best things I’ve seen at MIFF this year. One particularly lovely scene actually brought some tears to my eyes – an increasingly rare kind of emotional response to be had in the environment of this festival where quick, authoritative judgements are the name of the game. My tears were inexplicable – brought on not by any tragic occurrence in the narrative but by the simple juxtaposition of a slowly tracking camera through the rooms of a house with a man’s voice reading from an old Portuguese text – and indeed so is the overall impact of the film.
Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl tells the story of Macario’s love for a young woman, Luisa, who he sees from his window; his attempts to raise enough money to wed her; and the eventual failure of his passion to remake the world as he hopes it will. The world in which the story takes place is simultaneously our own – it features probably the most honest, unpretentious investigation of today’s economic climate of any film I’ve seen, as when Macario remarks that he can’t find work because “commerce hates a sentimental accountant” – and a much older one, the 19th-century world of Eca de Queiros, upon whose original story the film is loosely based. The film is both utterly unbelievable as a representation of our world and at the same time startlingly immediate.
Dipping in and out of this story of love and its failings, Oliveira finds ample opportunity, even within his film’s short running time, to pause upon the other people who pass through his characters’ lives, and upon Portuguese history and art. As pleasurable and as gorgeous a late-career film as Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire albeit not so sharp or intellectually satisfying – Eccentricites finds Oliveira still weaving his magic in a way few others can. If he is able to live a while longer and make a film like this every now and then, it will mean more to me than a dozen glowering Michael Haneke masterpieces.