Acto da Primavera

Manoel de Oliveira

It takes place in the late 1950s. During a trip to Tras-os-Montes, a north-eastern region of Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira sees three wooden crosses along the road. He asks what it is and someone explains: a popular representation of the Passion of Christ is enacted here. Oliveira decides to see the show and returns in 1961 and 1962 to film it. It’s been twenty years since he shot a feature film, Acto da Primavera being his second feature after Aniki-Bóbó. The show is a “Passion Play” acted by the peasants from the village of Curalha, which becomes an “act of Spring” in the film by Oliveira – in which he does virtually everything, almost alone. He says: “I wanted to show the representation of an event 2000 years old, rewritten and replayed in the 16th century and redone in the 20th century with tape recorders, cameras (…). So I decided to film the machines that were filming and the tape which was recording. There’s the time of Christ and the 16th and the 20th centuries at the same time, all seen simultaneously. Only the cinema is capable of this artifice.” But this ever so humble artifice, in light of the most audacious modernity, has not stopped surprising us to this day. It is from this key film that all humane thoughts and the aesthetic of Oliveira’s cinema would be launched. Documentary and fiction are juxtaposed and pushed to the extreme. Everything is effect and trompe l’oeil. While theatre and speech cross through the time and fl esh of the body, he deploys eroticism and the sacred against the atomic chaos of men. While this religious film was being made, the Portuguese Colonial War began in Africa. “Ai dolor” says the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross of her son. Cinema would still take time for us to understand the richness of the blending of its opposite poles, so celebrated and shaken up by the FID. Oliveira, who has always been ahead of his time, was already there, of course: candle in hand. (FF)

Technical sheet


Portugal, 1963, Colour, 35mm, Mono, 94’

Original version : portuguese
Script : Manoel de Oliveira according to a 16th century text by Francisco Vaz de Guimarães
Photography, editing, sound : Manoel de Oliveira
Casting : Nicolau da Silva, Ermelinda Pires, Maria Madalena, Amélia Chaves, Luís de Sousa, Francisco Luís
Production : Manoel de Oliveira