Directed by Pedro Costa, Víctor Erice, Aki Kaurismäki and Manoel de Oliveira
The omnibus film appeals—or should appeal—to the easily distractible, the scattered, the pressed-for-time; to lovers of shorts who bemoan their usual absence from cinema screens; to people who eat too many hors d'oeuvres. In reality, however, even this seemingly natural audience is wary; we know better than most how likely we are to bite into something terrifically inedible. In the case of the uninspiringly titled Centro Historico, four European masters were called on by the Powers That Be to take the Portuguese city of Guimarães as inspiration. One of last year’s European Capitals of Culture, Guimarães (like so much about Europe these days) inspired Aki Kaurismäki, Pedro Costa, Víctor Erice, and Manoel de Oliveira to shoot nostalgic, wistful, and obsolete—we’re on the terrain of the past and the never-was, rather than the cobblestones or new asphalt roads of Guimarães.
Kaurismäki opens with "Tavern Man," a wry and concise day-in-the-life of a shlemiel. Tavern Man (Ilkka Koivula) manages even to mop floors badly, and it’s best not to speak of his soup-and-sardine menu. Undaunted, he plays the first note of the bittersweet motif that Erice takes up in "Broken Windows," a documentary account of the lives of workers in the recently shuttered Vizela River Textile Mill, third in sequence. Before that, though, there’s Pedro Costa’s "Sweet Exorcist" hallucination, which I assume will be the most polarizing of the four. In a sort of offshoot of his 2006 Colossal Youth, Costa again works with the 70-something Cape Verdean immigrant Ventura, who spends the majority of the short in an elevator, shared with a bronze-painted soldier—a living statue—and a panoply of voices which may or may not be in his mind; it's a little bit Apocalypse Now, a little bit Beckett. Last is a slight extended pun by the world’s oldest working director; at 104, de Oliveira can surely take as many minutes as he wants to make a tourists-as-conquistadores joke.
Opens July 19 at Anthology Film Archives