Movies: Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl * * *
Most 100-year-olds would be happy enough to be still holding the newspaper the right way up but, at 101, Portuguese director Manuel de Oliveira has just released his 49th film.
De Oliveira's old world preoccupations and pared-down style are to the fore in Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl, which is based on a story by 19th-century writer Eca de Queiroz and begins aboard a rattling suburban train.
Ricardo Trepa, the director's grandson, plays Macario, a young accountant who buttonholes the female passenger next to him and tells her his tale of woe.
Macario works at his wealthy uncle's drapery business and is working late one night when he becomes entranced by a young blonde woman fanning herself in an opposing window.
She is Luisa (Catarina Wallenstein), the daughter of a wealthy old Lisbon family, and Macario becomes obsessed with her. So much so that he risks his uncle's disapproval and the loss of his livelihood in order to be with her. But all is not as it seems in this strange and rather surreal tale.
Though nominally set in the present day, Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl is entirely 19th century in mood and tone, right down to the chasteness of the couple's courtship and the fact that we're expected to take seriously the notion of Macario asking his uncle for permission to marry the girl.
There are touches at times of Eric Rohmer and Luis Bunuel, with shades of the former's funereal pacing and the latter's surreal humour. In fact, the whole thing is done with considerable style, but it's a slight affair in the end, a brief and perplexing old-world curio.