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European cinema pays tribute to arthouse director Oliveira

Tributes poured in Friday for Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, who has died at the age of 106, after a long and fruitful career spanning the silent and digital eras of film.

Word of Oliveira’s death on Thursday unleashed a flurry of tributes from artists, critics and politicians around Europe, with the Portuguese government decreeing two days of official mourning.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho was expected to attend the director’s funeral Friday in his hometown Porto, and stars Oliveira had worked with rushed to pay tribute to his life and work.

“It is very difficult for me to imagine the world without his light,” said American actor John Malkovich, who played in Oliveira’s 2001 film, “I’m Going Home,” about a successful Parisian actor forced to confront solitude, old age, and death when his family is killed in a car crash.

“It is very sad, but c’est la vie. He had a long, incredibly rich life,” Malkovich told Portuguese television.

“Manoel de Oliveira was very special, at once both seductive and authoritarian, and often charming. He was above all an artisan, working incessantly on his films,” French daily Liberation quoted actress Catherine Deneuve saying of the man with whom she made two movies.

– Filming is my passion’ –

Born on December 11, 1908 to an industrialist father in Porto, Oliveira followed his passion for cinema by first becoming a bit actor in silent films at the age of 20, then directing his first work in 1930.

During a career that spanned nearly a century, Oliveira produced around 50 films and documentaries, usually auteur productions based on theatrical or literary works — including the 1985 “The Satin Slipper,” drawn from the seven-hour play by Paul Claudel.

His better-known movies include “The Divine Comedy” (1990), “Belle Toujours” (2006) and “The Strange Case of Angelica” (2010). In 2008 he received a lifetime achievement award at the Cannes film festival.

“He filmed virtually all the movies he wanted to make up to the age of 106. Fifteen days ago, he was still working at a final project he wanted to direct,” said Ricardo Trepa, Oliveira’s actor grandson, who acted in several of the director’s movies.

Though Oliveira’s final film inspired by an epic poem by Luis de Camoes was not uncompleted, he left behind an autobiographical film made in 1982 that has never been seen. The movie is set to debut sometime this month.

“Filming is my work, my passion,” Oliveira said in recent years. “My life passed too quickly, and I never had any time to lose.”