Between November and December 1978, Portuguese public television presented, in six weekly episodes, the original television version of Manoel de Oliveira’s Amor de Perdição (Doomed Love). In Portugal, the film’s critical reception was very hostile. It was also devastating for its director, who was accused of wantonly producing the most expensive Portuguese film made with public subsidy at a time of serious financial crisis. Oliveira was also criticised for moving away from the naturalistic language mandated by television, undermining the legacy of author Camilo Castelo Branco, and not being concerned with the reality of the class struggle Portuguese society was undergoing in the aftermath of the socialist revolution. The debate about Oliveira’s work was so intense that it was even discussed in the national Parliament and inflamed arguments about public financial support for Portuguese cinema.
Inspired by actual events that occurred to the author’s own family, Doomed Love (1861-62) is a remarkable 19th century Portuguese novel of literary romanticism. Camilo’s novel has an ultra-romantic, passionate and tragic plot, in which a young couple falls in love against the wishes of their own warring families. Faced with the impossibility of getting married or even staying together, Simão Botelho and Teresa Albuquerque prefer to die.
Camilo’s novel was so important and popular that even before Oliveira’s adaptation there had been four other film versions, two in Portugal (by George Pallu, in 1921, and by António Lopes Ribeiro in 1943) and two in Brazil (by Francisco Santos, in 1918, and by José Vianna also in 1918), and others for broadcast television.
Between 1976 and 1978 Oliveira worked on an adaptation that resulted in two versions: the abovementioned work made for television (running 287 minutes) and a 16mm version for cinema release (running 262 minutes). The television version was longer because Oliveira decided to increase the role of one of the characters, turning this figure into a sort of second narrator who provides a summary of the previous episode and reveals some details of the next in each part. Despite having been shot in colour, the television version was broadcast in black-and-white because Portugal didn’t have colour television at that time.
The film version was exhibited in Florence in December 1978, Rotterdam in February 1979, and in Paris in June 1979, and the international critical reception was startlingly positive, particularly in France. When, from November 1979 onwards, the film was shown in Portuguese movie theatres in its colour version and without the 25-minutes of introductions and conclusions made specifically for television, Portuguese critics largely surrendered to the film and the genius of Oliveira.
In the context of Oliveira’s work, Doomed Love belongs – along with O Passado e o Presente (Past and Present, 1972), Benilde ou a Virgem Mãe (Benilde or the Virgin Mother, 1975) and Francisca (1981) – to the “tetralogy of frustrated loves”, a series of four films that are adaptations of works by some of Oliveira’s favourite literary authors (Vicente Sanches, José Régio, Camilo Castelo Branco and Agustina Bessa-Luís).
From a formal point-of-view, Doomed Love continues the work started in O Acto da Primavera (Rite of Spring, 1963) concerning issues of representation and theatrical dramaturgy. According to Oliveira, theatre is “the synthesis of all the arts”, while cinema is only a “medium to fix the theatre”.
The transposition of any story is in itself, I believe, always literary in nature – whether in a book, in theater or in film. With the difference that these last two – and film is, let’s say, the son of the theatre – give it a concrete aspect. Painting, for instance, cannot do this because it lacks elements such as movement. (1)
For Oliveira, the cinema “was conceived as the art of shadows, merely visual”. But with the introduction of sound and colour cinema became progressively more realistic, perhaps illusorily so. The theatre, while a “synthesis of all the arts”, rejects the illusion of character reality and self-consciously stages its “desire to recreate life”. In contrast, film is, for Oliveira, “only a process of audio-visual fixation”. But it is precisely within this limitation (its “only” status) that the originality of cinema is found – its “ability to perpetuate the moment, the spontaneous, the poetic and the artistic”.
This theoretical motivation meant that, unlike all previous adaptations of Doomed Love, Oliveira chose to make a full and literal version of the novel. Oliveira opted to explore a new narrative form in this film, being more concerned with words than with images. Unlike most cinematic adaptations of literature, and because Oliveira conceded that a filmic “reproduction” of the whole narrative of Doomed Love was unfeasible, he chose to respect Camilo’s literal text, even if it meant failing to enact some of the passages of the novel, which were then only presented orally by the narrator. In some cases, when economy demanded it, the action was suspended or frozen, leaving the actors detained in a sort of tableau vivant, while the narrator read the words of Camilo.
Also, the direction of actors is peculiar in Oliveira’s adaptation. Instead of performing, the actors – some amateurs and even non-actors – just recite Camilo’s text without any emotional or expressive intonation and even denounce the artifice of cinema, looking and speaking directly to the camera without any concern for the raccord. This interpretation, avowedly artificial and non-naturalistic, was intended to erase the performance of the actors and highlight and enhance the words of Camilo.
Similarly, in this film Oliveira displays some of the characteristics that radically distinguish his work from the generality of Portuguese and European filmmaking: fixed shots and long pans, slowly paced narration, and very subjective choices of themes and sources, many of which were widely considered to be irrelevant to the immediate political and social context.
Oliveira positions the artificiality of cinema as a set of aesthetical and ethical options, refusing any strategy of illusion or deception in the representation of the reality. In failing to revive the past or represent reality, the film must be content with its staging, always bearing in mind and being aware that it is merely a subjective version of the same reality. The duration of the traveling shots and the fixed perspective of the camera give the viewer all the necessary time to carefully listen to, look at and reflect on the words and images being displayed. The viewer must be interested in the truth of the text and not in the mere facts as presented in the novel.
In conclusion, these are the particularities that make the work of Oliveira so popular among cinephiles and the filmmaker so famous in the context of modern cinema: the so-called “Oliveira style” that is increasingly distant from the hegemonic ways of reading and writing practiced within standard film narrative and its imposition on the supposedly objective and neutral.
Amor de Perdição/Doomed Love (1978 Portugal 262 mins)
Prod Co: CPC/Cinequipa/ Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian/IPC/RTP/Tobis Portuguesa Prod: Paulo Branco Dir: Manoel de Oliveira Scr: Manoel de Oliveira, based on the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco Phot: Manuel Costa e Silva Ed: Solveig Nordlund Prod Des: António Casimiro Mus: João Paes
Cast: António Sequeira Lopes, Cristina Hauser, Elsa Wllancamp, António Costa, Henrique Viana, Ruy Furtado