O passado e o presente

Manoel de Oliveira

Vanda has an unbearable relationship with the men she marries: she loves them only after they are dead, and to such an extent that every new husband always lives haunted by the memory of the former. We discover the necrophiliac vein of this bourgeois woman when Vanda receives home visits from three couples who are friends, faced with her domestic staff who are surprised but do not say a word, although they see everything. An adaptation of a play by Vicente Sanches that upset the mores of his time, this film was of capital importance for Manoel de Oliveira, the first part of the «tetralogy of frustrated loves» and so different from the other th ree components – because it is a comedy – and would launch decisive issues, including the power of women confronted with the weakness of men. But more important is undoubtedly what happens in the acting of the actors, most of whom are amateurs: violently anti-naturalist, it was with this film that Oliveira would impose an ostensibly ghostly theatricality of representation in which the actors often look at the camera. Actors do not represent when they play. What do they do then? They present, rather. What? What Oliveira asks of them: portray, act. In this particular movie? The actor, as actor of himself. The actor, always filmed before the character. O Passado e o Presente would not create a school but these issues would still arise endlessly, like a mirror, in all the subsequent films, especially those which most clearly show their entrails and refl ections by the filmmaker on his own craft. Oliveira said: “Sometimes people ask me why I mix professional actors with amateurs. Simple answer: good actors do not represent, amateurs neither! The former have forgotten, the latter have never learned.” But let’s get back to O Passado e o Presente, which is ultimately a young man’s film. In 1971, four decades after his first film – and dozens of others that were written without ever leaving the drawer, Oliveira, if you can imagine it, only shot his third feature film, still under the fascist regime approaching its end. The generation of Cinema Novo (Paulo Rocha, Fernando Lopes, etc), which has always recognized Oliveira as the only father figure in the Portuguese cinema, helped – the money from the Gulbenkian Foundation too. The man who had been whistled at since 1931 was then the source of an unprecedented scandal in the Portuguese cinema and became, more than ever, a combat trench, for whom César Monteiro’s defence was famous: “Like all great revolutionary films, this one also has the power to unmask fools.” (FF)

Technical sheet


Portugal, 1971, Colour, 35mm, 115’

Original version : portuguese
Script : Manoel de Oliveira after the play by Vicente Sanches
Photography : Acacio de Almeida
Music : Felix Mendelssohn
Editing : Manoel de Oliveira
Casting : Maria de Saisset, Barbara Vieira, Manuela de Freitas, Pedro Pinheiro

Production : Manoel de Oliveira
Distribution : Hors champ