The Past and the Present

Oliveira began his monumental “Tetralogy of Frustrated Love” with this deliciously Buñuelian satire of the secrets, passions, and necrophilia of the not-so-idle rich. With hair ever perfect and lips poised to deliver either kisses or insults, the witheringly attractive Vanda (Maria de Saisset) aims to drive her second husband to suicide, but is plunged into real panic when her first suddenly arrives after years of being presumed dead. Holding court in her mansion while dealing with an assortment of self-absorbed elitists and vacuous snobs, Vanda is the empress of all she surveys, except the servants who see right through her. Welding vision and sound to his wittily poisonous deconstruction of class and power, Oliveira frames his images through mirrors, keyholes, and doors, and his camera swoons through hallways and parlors to the strains of Mendelssohn and others. The Exterminating Angel meets Vincente Minnelli, “this rare amalgam of literate text, controlled ensemble playing, music (and silence), plus an all-seeing camera, produces a rich and heady feast” (John Gillett, Sight & Sound).

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