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By James Teitelbaum | October 18, 2009

This humorless and painfully sincere film concerns Macário (Ricardo Trêpa), a junior accountant in Lisbon who falls for a young girl he sees standing in her window. As the film opens, Macário has met a middle-aged woman on a train, and says to her: “what you can’t tell your wife, and can’t tell your friend, you can tell a stranger.” He then spends an hour telling her (and us) how hot the girl in the window was, and how he courted her, only to be disappointed. The girl, Luísa (Catarina Wallenstein), lives with her mother, and while she is meant to be sultry and mysterious, she comes across as sullen and charmless. On paper, the whole of the film might be mistaken for first reel of a longer film, but in execution the thin plot is stretched to the almost-feature length running time of sixty-five minutes – and it feels like twice that length. Essentially, nothing happens. This man weakly persues this girl, has some troubles, lands her, and then she shames him into leaving Lisbon by committing a petty theft. The performers all mope dourly through their scenes, perhaps as bored with their lifeless characters as the audience must be.

Although the film clearly takes place in recent years (witness contemporary cars and the trading of Euros), all of the characters behave as if they’re in a sixty-year-old film. They all have prudish and stiff manners, speaking and behaving with an exaggerated formality that was already out of date by 1920 (but which lasted on film at least through the 1940s). For example Macário is “in love” with Luísa and wants to get married after they have met exactly twice, but he can’t marry her because he doesn’t have a good job. Yeah, didn’t Cary Grant have the same problem a few dozen times in the 1930s? Another example of this odd anachronism is Macário asking his uncle for permission to get married – and being denied (no explanation is provided). Make no mistake, however, this film is not meant to be some sort of homage. The real explanation behind this stilted behavior may be that the director, Manoel de Oliveira, is nearing his 101st birthday. He has directed forty-nine films since 1931. Revered in Portugal, one must wonder if the duffer has finally run out of steam. Certainly, he doesn’t seem to be living in the 21st century, or even in the second half of the 20th.

One could pass off the stiff characters as artistic choice if the rest of the film weren’t so sloppily put together. The image is washed-out and grey-looking, and there is an annoying buzz present on the soundtrack during the quieter scenes. All of the interiors are murky, and the whole film has a mushy softness to the image that makes it seem as though it was taken from a third-generation video dub. Someone who has been in the filmmaking industry as long as Oliveria has ought to have a better grip on his technical skills, or should at least surround himself with people still capable of making his projects look and sound a whole lot better than this. When a man makes movies for nearly eighty years and turns out product as weak as “Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura,” maybe it is time for someone to suggest retirement.

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