Home News Portuguese cinema legend Oliveira dies aged 106

Portuguese cinema legend Oliveira dies aged 106

Published on 02/04/2015

Portuguese cinema legend Manoel de Oliveira, whose film-making career ran from the silent era into the digital age, died on Thursday at the age of 106.

The award-winning director made more than 50 films, including features and documentaries, over the course of a career that began in 1931.

And despite his fragile health, he completed his last work, a short film, only last year.

“Portuguese culture lost one of its most important figures today,” said Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho as tributes poured in.

The northern coastal city of Porto, where Oliveira was born and where he died, declared three days of mourning.

His funeral will be held in Porto on Friday.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva described Oliveira as “an incomparable witness of Portuguese culture”.

Gilles Jacob, former president of the Cannes film festival, posted an emotional Tweet: “I am an orphan now, as is the whole of world cinema. He was a gentleman.”

“He was eternal. His cinema has made him eternal,” said Margarida Gil, president of the Portuguese film directors’ association.

Oliveira, who was born in 1908, was introduced to cinema by his father, a movie-lover and factory owner.

Aged just 20, the accomplished athlete and would-be filmmaker had his first stint in cinema as an actor in a silent movie.

In 1931, he made his first documentary, also a silent film, titled “Labour on the Douro River”.

And in 1933, he acted again, this time in Portugal’s first-ever sound film, “A Song of Lisbon”.

– Social critic –

After making several other documentaries, Oliveira made his first fiction film “Aniki-Bobo” in 1942, which focused on the tough lives of children in a poor district of Porto.

The film was a powerful social critique, and would only receive acclaim several years later.

Restrictions under Antonio Salazar’s three-decade dictatorship until the late 1960s and a lack of infrastructure in Portugal kept Oliveira away from filmmaking until 1963, when he made his second feature, “The Rite of Spring”.

In 1972, he made “Past and Present”, a social satire that tells the story of a young widow with a number of marriages past her, who betrays each new husband yet venerates each one of the deceased.

He then shot a tetralogy of failed love stories, kicking off with “Doomed Love” in 1979.

In 2008, he was awarded the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes for his life-long contribution to cinema, as well as the French Legion of Honour.

Still making films in the digital age, Oliveira made “Christopher Columbus – The Enigma” in 2007 and “Gebo and the Shadow” in 2012, which was screened at the 69th Venice International Film Festival.

Despite his frailty, he made an appearance on his 106th birthday at the 2014 premier of his last film, “The Old Man of Belem”.