TripAdvisor - Portugal
home | art & architecture | books & cds | dance | destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.
Werner Heisenberg, 1927
principle is known by name to most educated people. Few, however, could articulate its
scientific meaning--it's about subatomic particles and momentum and mass and other
technical stuff best left to the scientists. But its implications have been carried into
popular culture, suggesting that knowledge is elusive, that understanding is fraught with
doubt. The principle challenged the notion of simple causality, that every determinate
cause is followed by the resulting effect. It seems to play into the contemporary sense of
anomie, of the world as an essentially anarchic place; if cause and effect are so
uncertain, life seems, indeed, to be more precarious.
93 year old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira has created a dense and enigmatic film in The Uncertainty Principle, a film that will be as elusive to many viewers as the scientific principle from which it takes its title.
It opens with a long take of an abandoned rural chapel in a rainstorm. A woman comes to the chapel, unlocks the door and enters; a while later she leaves. With such economy of means, Oliveira creates an immediate sense of mystery and that sense of mystery pervades the entire film; motivations seem ambiguous, relationships unpredictable, and meanings obscure, to be puzzled out from dialogue often more perplexing than revealing.
Plotted with the complexity of a nineteenth century opera, the film projects an equally operatic, Verdian sense of inexplicable fate hanging over the lives of its characters. It concerns Antonio (Ivo Canelas), the lame son of a wealthy family, who was largely brought up by a servant, Celsa (Isabel Ruth). Celsa's own son Jose (Ricardo Trepa) and Antonio grew up almost as brothers. Jose loves Camila (Leonor Baldaque), from a neighboring family impoverished by the compulsive gambling of Camila's father. While Camila acknowledges her interest in Jose, she marries Antonio, clearly motivated by the wealth of his family. "Portugal has become a lottery," she tells Jose, "that everybody wants to win." Antonio's proposal is Camila's jackpot.
Jose makes a shady living in association with Vanessa (Leonor Silveira), proprietress of nightclubs and bordellos. They both are frequent guests at Antonio's home and Vanessa becomes Antonio's mistress. The three travel together. Camila alleges that Antonio has struck her. While there is a clear competition between Vanessa and Camila, it is also suggested that Vanessa loves Camila. Matters are further complicated by two additional characters, a pair of brothers who appear to be friends and advisors to the family. (They also provide the lengthy introduction to the other characters and their history which is nearly impossible to follow and doesn't significantly help to sort things out.) An extended allusion to the Joan of Arc story (martyr, warrior, confessor, recanter) adds yet another layer to the complexity of the scenario.
Oliveira creates a well-realized sense of place; shots of the Portuguese countryside, the river, and towns seem to anchor the less tangible obscurities of the story. A soundtrack of Paganini music for solo violin stunningly enhances the mood. The actors are highly effective in challenging roles; especially memorable is Silveira's glamorous Vanessa--sexy, calculated and contained, dealing with each unfolding development with cool detachment.
The dialogue is deliberately stylized, with the characters frequently facing the camera, rather than the party with whom they are conversing. They often speak in epigrammatic statements with obscure meaning:
Camila to Vanessa: Your power is ephemeral. You have not
yet reached the first stage of intelligence.
Vanessa: What is that first stage of intelligence?
Camila: It is goodness.
The effect is stagy and stilted; these
characters feel like constructs of ideas rather than flesh and blood people. But while it
is impossible to identify with them, Oliveira nonetheless sustains interest in them and
their story; it's rather like an intellectual jigsaw puzzle that challenges the viewer to
put the pieces together. Whether or not the pieces ultimately come together into a cogent
argument will take more than one viewing to determine.
- Arthur Lazere