The Strange Case of Angelica
Directed by Manoel de Oliveira
This quirk-filled wisp of a film is Manoel de Oliveira's hymn to what he describes as the violence of love—the antagonism and resistance encountered when two desire to merge into one. In this film (as in many cinematic romances before) that particular dazed violence takes the form of a ghost story, here of a photographer who falls in love with the titular character while photographing her corpse just after she has died. She seems to smile for him alone, at least in his photographs, at least through his art.
Ghost stories work well in films because all films are essentially about characters who are there and not there—who are there in physical form and image yet also only exist in memory and energy. Oliveira pushes some of those metaphors further, obviously identifying himself with the obsessive photographer who falls in love with his own work. This self-conscious fetishization of the tools and working life of the artist make this his ultimate Late Film, a hard thing to keep up with, this being his second US release of the year in which he turned 102.
The film's exquisite sound design is soothing, from the use of silence to the way the tinkling of piano keys echoes the sound of rain on cobbled streets. And the careful look of the film resembles a painting, like a Dutch 19th-century interior with its soft colors, dark edges and pools of light. It is a satisfying film, slight enough to be flawless.
Opens December 29 at IFC Center