The Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, 98 years old as of this writing, is a walking bit of cinema history. Born in Oporto (where they make port wine) he reportedly worked on a film as early as 1928 and made his official directorial debut in 1931 with a short documentary, Working on the Douro River. Even though Hollywood had implemented sound by then, many other countries had not. And so Oliveira carries the distinction of being not only the oldest movie director still active, but also the only movie director to have begun in the silent era. In Europe, he's considered a master, with several films already in the canon. Despite all this, only two of Oliveira's films have received any kind of regular distribution in the United States, I'm Going Home (2002), which I consider a masterpiece, and the slightly more problematic, but still excellent A Talking Picture (2004). A third, Belle Toujours, opened briefly this summer in New York but has already gone.
Oliveira has made the majority of his films -- more than thirty of them -- since 1979, when he was already past seventy. Because of this, his films tend to be patient and contemplative, or to Western audiences, just plain "slow." He's like an old man driving a car in front of you; perhaps he's keeping us from getting to our destination faster, but if we could only see things from his point of view, maybe we could enjoy the drive a little more. He's learned how to really stop and appreciate things and he has pretty much earned the right to make any movie he feels like making. So he sets his sights on a sort of sequel to Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour (1967), which, in other hands, would have been a travesty. And though it reunites two of the main characters from that masterpiece, it actually turns out to be more of a tribute or an epilogue than a sequel.