Apart from being the most revered director in Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira must surely also be the granddad among all veterans – he started making films in 1931, and is still going strong at the time of writing. That’s one heck of a career in anyone’s book, but in a way, he’s merely catching up with lost time – there are sporadic gaps in his filmography due to several factors. A centenarian now, Oliveira is as keen as ever – based on the half a dozen films of his that I’ve seen to date, his more recent films are just as insightful, educative, and demanding of the audience as his earlier pieces. This is quite remarkable, considering that he belongs to the old school of auteur cinema, and like Michelangelo Antonioni and Theo Angelopoulos, influenced strongly by documentary style of film making. But unlike the illustrious names, Oliveira directs actors in typically mainstream fashion – partly due to the fact that his films are expected to bring in audiences if he is to get further projects. He is also not a fan of hand-held stuff or the constantly moving camera – he relies largely on the editing instead to convey any drama.
Oliveira was in his 90’s when he made ‘Non’, ou A Vã Glória de Mandar [Eng. Title: ‘No’, or the Vain Glory of Command]. As fine a film it is, it is not his best work – for that there are numerous others to choose from – but it is one of the rarest of occasions where he uses nudity in film – and therefore, the blog’s most relevant.
The film is told through conversations between an army lieutenant and members of his platoon, set during the last days of colonialism in Africa. A history professor before being drafted into the army, the lieutenant interprets events from their history philosophically, and formulates his theory on their legacy to the world, in terms of civilisation. The narrative threads Portugal’s history through its triumphs and tribulations in order to make sense of what it contributed to the world, what it stands for, and the events take place against a backdrop of African guerillas closing in on them. For those interested in Portuguese history, this film is certainly Recommended Viewing..!
In the only nude scene in the film (and possibly in any Oliveira film), we see an interpretation of a verse from Portugal’s most famous poet, Luís de Camões, eulogising Vasco da Gama’s epic voyage that reopened European sea-trade routes to India. They land in an island, and are welcomed with open arms by Venus herself and the resident nymphs. Teresa Menezes plays Venus, but it is the largely uncredited actresses playing the nymphs, who appear in the nude.