Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Convent (1995)

Religiousness is embedded in everyday life, you cannot escape it. There's no point even in trying; frankly, I've given up. I prefer to submerge in the religious experience nowadays, not as a believer, but as a tourist. Religions have certain things to bring to a dry post-modern life, as Alain de Botton noticed recently.

Having visited the Cathedral in Nancy and having bought  a dozen of the famous macarons, I settled in my couch and decided to watch the seven-year-old Convent (1995); not so much for the pious title, as for his stars and especially his perennial Festivals favourite Manoel de Oliveira. I started eating the macarons -they were made following a secret nuns' recipe- and I pushed play. The titles were a bit kitschy -a canary yellow tone- but auterism is bizzare sometimes, so I persevered. 

Catherine Deneuve was still attractive, but not as in her early days. John Malkovich was like we know him, of indiscernible age. I can't say they enthused me, they seemed a bit lifeless in their roles. The film started in English, continued with sporadic Portuguese remarks and dialogue, then abruptly gave in to French, whenever it could -to permit Catherine to sound more natural and cute in her mother tongue and the Portuguese actors -who where stunning at times- less pompous in their accent. That was not all; some German, while an archivist was citing Goethe, was also tossed in the mix.

The whole thing is an Oliveira take on evil and innocence, on power games and metaphysical powers. The film is somehow entertaining, tiring when it obsesses with religious themes with constant scenes of saints and similar pious scenery and it gives an abrupt and unexpected ending.

Luis Miguel Cintra is seriously interesting as a physique, and probable devilish power in the movie, same goes for Leonor Silveira -with an attractiveness that I normally don't associate to Portuguese actresses, that I reckon they are more extrovertly sexy than her. Points of notice: the house keepers were commenting on the action a bit like the ancient chorus, the fisherman in the end also seemed a bit like those ancient narrators who describe the unseen and Catherine getting out of the sea towards the end -the femme fatale has won again- a bit like Aphrodite's birth, a bit like Mermaid and then putting on her white tunic embroidered with a meander pattern...What could one make of all this? A film made up of many little elements, like a jigsaw I'd say, if only the elements matched.

The clue here is this: the American researcher that Malkovich portrays is seeking immortality through his academic work. How? By seeking to prove that Shakespeare was not English but of Spanish-Jewish origin with the name of Jacques Peres. With all the buzz lately on Anonymous by Roland Emmerich on the same topic, the identity of Shakespeare, this one gives an interesting alternative.

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