Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009), Portuguese cinema

Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009)

Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura) (2009) is a curious film that breaks several rules of commercial filmmaking: at only an hour long, it is very short; the opening scene is a static shot down a train carriage following a ticket inspector inspecting tickets; while the story is based on a late-nineteenth century short story, it is set in the modern day, but retains a period feel. The lack of regard for the conventions of filmmaking is not totally surprising, bearing in mind the director is the grand seigneur of the Portuguese film industry, Manoel de Oliveira, who was 101 when he directed this film. It is carefully constructed and nothing is superfluous. The opening scene of the film moves from a shot of the train carriage to a close up of two strangers who strike up a conversation when the young man, Marcário (Ricardo Trêpa), feels compelled to tell his sad story to the woman sat next to him (Leonor Silveira). De Oliveira has Marcário narrating part of the story in a way which is not quite conversation and not quite voiceover. The woman responds with suitable interjections from time to time, but her eyes stare blindly past Marcário and she retains a benign smile on her face and the viewer feels slightly disconcerted.

The short story by the nineteenth-century realist writer Eça de Queiroz is a tragic one of Marcário, who falls in love with Luísa (Catarina Wallenstein) whom he sees gazing out of the window of an apartment opposite the office where he works as an accountant for his uncle (Diogo Dória). He is seduced by the fan she languorously waves in front of her face and his obsession with her leads to his downfall. He resigns from his job when his uncle, making reference to poor people (meaning Luísa and her mother (Júlia Buisel)) entering his shop and a large amount of his stock being stolen, refuses to let him marry Luísa. Marcário is nearly penniless when he is offered a job in Cape Verde, where he makes a lot of money doing a job it is implied may not be totally legitimate. He then loses the money to an unscrupulous business man (Rogério Samora), but finally his uncle agrees to give him his job back and he is able to marry Luísa, but  then discovers his uncle was right about her being a thief.

Marcário and Luísa are nineteenth-century characters living lives that aren’t touched by the twenty-first century: Luísa has nothing to do all day except look out of the window waving a fan; Marcário has to ask his uncle for permission to get married; they go a salon to listen to a musician playing a harp (Ana Paula Miranda) and an actor (Luís Miguel Cintra) reciting poetry. Even the interiors of the buildings are from another century, untouched by modern decor and furnishings. De Oliveira skilfully conveys the depressing, claustrophobic life Marcário lives through sets that appear as if they are from a painting. The tiny room that Marcário is forced to move into when he is reduced to penury is reminiscent of a van Gogh room in Rembrandt browns.

Catarina Wallenstein won the Best Actress award at the Portuguese Golden Globe awards for the role of Luísa and the final scene of Luísa sat with her legs apart and her head hanging down is an image that captures all the shame and despair that she is feeling and expresses it far more succinctly than any words could do.