A whimsical meditation on art, mortality and separation anxiety issues related to the fragility of human existence on the planet, Manoel de Oliveira’s The Strange Case Of Angelica (O Estranho Caso de Angelica) touches on the tragic duality that creative minds face. That is, when mulling death and inevitable departure from the earth.
Namely, not just resignation to the approaching end of life and leaving loved ones behind. But how to likewise fathom bidding farewell to those creations emanating from the human mind, that must also be necessarily parted with. Whether in this case film, or its associated images, concepts and characters.
And these obsessions and preoccupations come as no surprise, considering that the eminent, still prolific Portuguese director has just turned 102 years old. Though in no way brooding or withdrawn in his advanced years, Oliveira laces his reflections and imaginative storytelling instead with a rather healthy fantastical, even at times humorous approach to the more solemn issues surrounding the impermanence of existence.
Conceived by Oliveira six decades ago but likely influenced by more recent personal existential concerns, The Strange Case Of Angelica focuses on the tribulations of Isaac (Ricardo TrApa), an impressionable and introspective young photographer. Summoned by default one rainy night to appear immediately at the estate of an aristocratic family after a far more renowned local photographer cannot be located, Isaac is requested by the family to take pictures of Angelica (LApez de Ayala), a ravishing young bride who died just a few hours ago in her wedding dress.
While photographing the unfortunate young woman, Isaac is alarmed to discover her awake and smiling through his lens. Following this surreal incident, he becomes even more withdrawn and distracted, obsessed with pursuing this elusive woman in dreams or at the cemetery. And at one point, finding himself ecstatically locked in a wordless embrace with the beaming apparition and muse, as she takes him on a journey floating across the night sky.
The mystical when not earthy, Chaplinesque images assembled in The Strange Case Of Angelica are delightfully enchanting throughout, even if at times on the repetitive and unduly drawn out side. The central problem here is that the whole does not quite add up to the sum of its parts, as if the collection of shimmering symbolic entities were meant to be experienced separately, and without any meaningful connection.
This appears to be the case, especially when conjuring notions about artistic obsession and death that are conveyed with far too fanciful strokes. Which in effect creates a vibrant palette of stunningly envisioned interludes that are luminous to behold, but as for any potential insights to be gleaned, shed little light.
A Cinema Guild Release
2 1/2 stars