Oliveira, Manoel De: Oldest Living Filmmaker Dies at 106

Manoel de Oliveira, a celebrated Portuguese movie director believed to be the world’s oldest filmmaker, has died. He was 106.

The city council of Porto, where Oliveira was born and lived, announced his death Thursday on its website. It did not provide further details.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said in a statement that Oliveira “was a central figure in the international projection of Portuguese cinema and, through films, of Portuguese culture and its vitality.” President Anibal Cavaco Silva said in a televised address that “Portugal has lost one of the greatest figures of its contemporary culture.”

Oliveira’s last film, a short feature called The Old Man of Belem, had its premiere last November in Porto and was shown at last year’s Venice Film Festival.

Oliveira’s career began with a silent documentary about Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, in 1931. He made his first feature-length movie in 1942 but his output was sporadic until he was 76, when he began directing roughly a film every year.

Despite his huge output — more than 30 feature films and dozens of short films and documentaries — he achieved broad international recognition only in the 1990s and was best known as an art cinema auteur. He was over 100 years old when his last feature film, Gebo and The Shadow, came out in 2012. It was in French and starred Michael Lonsdale, Claudia Cardinale and Jeanne Moreau.

Oliveira was a regular at Cannes — where three of his movies were nominated for the festival’s Palme d’Or top prize — and other European film festivals.
Cannes awarded him a Golden Palm for lifetime achievement in 2008, and the Venice Film Festival twice gave him Career Golden Lions, in 1985 and 2004.

“His work is fastidious, mannered, romantic in a chilly way, largely concerned with the upper-middle classes and with art itself,” Philip French, a film critic with Britain’s The Observer, wrote in 2002.

Oliveira’s later work drew the interest of mainstream actors. His 1995 film The Convent starred John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve in a romantic mystery.

“Manoel de Oliveira is very, very special,” Deneuve said in 2005, when Oliveira was already approaching 100. “He works all the time, he writes the script during the night.”

In 1996, at the Venice Film Festival, Oliveira said he had no plans to slow his work rate. “I’m in a hurry. I have too many stories to tell,” he said.

Oliveira was born December 11, 1908. A Portuguese pole vault champion and a racing driver in his youth, his movie career began in 1931 with his 18-minute silent documentary Hard Labor on the River Douro, about the harsh daily life conditions of river-workers in Porto. The work is regarded as a classic of avant-garde cinema.

His first feature-length movie, Aniki-Bobo, was a hit in Portugal but its avant-garde neo-realism drew the attention of the then-dictatorship’s secret police, known by its acronym PIDE, which suspected him of subversion.

The PIDE later held Oliveira without charge and interrogated him for 10 days before releasing him. The government of Antonio Salazar refused to give him funding for his film projects and the censors rejected his scripts.

“I never had any political urges or activity,” he said, “but they hated me all the same.”

Oliveira also lost out in the 1974 military coup that toppled the dictatorship and installed democracy. Workers at the small textile factory he had inherited from his father seized control and ran the company into bankruptcy.