Tuesday 3 August 2010

The fan: "Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl"

The temptation is to treat Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl as a curio: an adaptation of a story by the Portuguese writer Eça de Queiroz, it lasts barely an hour, and has been brought to the screen by a filmmaker just over 100 years old: the indefatigable Manoel de Oliveira, one of the few directors currently working to truly merit the label "veteran". Narrated in regretful retrospect from a train zipping towards the Algarve, it's the tale of a humble accountant (Ricardo Trêpa) who takes a shine to the comely, full-lipped young woman prone to taking the air on a balcony adjacent to his office. The more he devotes himself to her, the more it seems to be to his own detriment - partly as his devotion means he comes to overlook the one overt flaw in her pulchritude: some decidedly light fingers.

It's set in a strange retro-present, in which trips to Cape Verde and a sort of courtliness - the old ways of bargaining - prevail; the object of the clerk's affections (a suitably unscrutable Catarina Wallenstein) is most often seen not Tweeting or texting, but wafting a Chinese fan idly, and it's from this prop that the film adopts its languorous, seductive rhythms. de Oliveira meanders towards an abrupt conclusion, but packs a fair bit in in the meantime: poetry readings, harp recitals, a visit to a gentleman's club decked out as a de Queiroz museum. VFM for aesthetes, then, but also a tart reminder of the dangers (and pleasures) of looking without seeing.

Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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