The Strange Case of Angelica (2011)

Manoel de Oliveria’s follow-up to Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl is a soul-crushing tale of a man tormented by the shadow of love. And while it’s a bleak and depressing film, I couldn’t help but be uplifted and delighted by the deep anguish the protagonist endures. The film coated in a rhapsodic romanticism which swept me away, twisted with just a twinge of dark humor.

When the young photographer Isaac (Ricardo Trêpa) is called upon in the middle of the night to carry out an unusual photo-shoot, he’s dragged into a room where the lovely Angélica (Pilar López de Ayala) rests in the deepest of sleep: death. While he’s asked to only take pictures of her, a final memory for the family, he leaves with an ideal version of Angélica stuck in his head, the prospect of a lost love tormenting his young soul.

Therefore, it’s a deep tale of the sort of anguish that goes on in a young romantic’s heart when tales of lost love and the prospect of a divine, angelic love clouds the mind of young men. It’s a perverse fairy tale, one in which the sleeping beauty is only alive in the mind of prince charming and where this lofty vision of love can only take shape and cohesion in dreams and fantasies.

The question becomes if such a love can actually be real or is it simply a fantasy? Oliveria explores this idea purely thought the visuals and leaves it up to the audience whether it’s a tale of love triumphing over death or simply the delusions of a young man who’s read too much poetry. The method is completely inexplicable and strange, but fits in wonderfully with the rich romantic hues of the film.

Cinematographer Savine Lancelin, who also shot Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl, returns with a film that is even more visually compelling than that film. Almost every single shot has a precise angle and framing that gives the visual a complexity of balance, form and focus that is painterly, a level of detail, discipline and mass that goes far beyond the work of the average cinematographer.

What makes it even better than Eccentricities is that the film plays with visual lighting that has both this creeping, under lit darkness in the background but one that also presents these warm, romantic hues. The visual playfulness adds yet another layer to the thematic division between the dark and the light sides of the story.

The film also gives the audience a tinge of dark humor. Oliveria makes the story too overwrought and juxtaposes them in certain ways to give some scenes some humorous twists. One of the best examples is when Isaac sips at his coffee, standing away from the table, caught up in the anguish of his soul while the people at the table discuss the silly matter of a bridge. It’s such an arbitrary and meaningless conversation that, in conjunction with the context of the film, becomes a dark joke.

Therefore, the film left me with a big smile. As anguish filled and haunting as this film should be, I couldn’t help but take such delight in the odd humor and superb visuals. It’s a sheer delight, a film I would watch again in a heartbeat. As artsy, serious and slow this film might be, I have to admit it’s one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in a long time.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing