Benilde, or the Virgin Mother

Oliveira heightened his theatrical artifice and satiric barbs in this modern-day Immaculate Conception tale, which takes on both the hypocrisies of organized religion and the spectacle that the bourgeois make of their own piety. A seemingly naive young woman, vigorously cloistered by her God-fearing father, suddenly declares herself pregnant, leading to proclamations of either utter madness or a possible “divine intervention.” Her aunt, a Lisbon socialite, has more earthy aspirations, however, and seeks out a local vagrant as the culprit. Oliveira's clinically austere filming techniques-static camera, overtly staged settings, long takes-merely serve to heighten the plot's (and characters') latent eroticism, while the film's lush color images, all creamy whites and saturated primaries, recall that grand master of misplaced desire and bourgeois propriety and property, Douglas Sirk. In its polemical approach to morality and religion, it also parallels Pasolini's Teorema and Dreyer's Ordet, but with a willful theatricality that's utterly Oliveira.

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