On first glance, a film about a young man’s encounter with a mysterious blond woman, directed by a 100 year old and based on the 19th-century writings of Portugese great Eça de Queirós, well, it just seems unlikely enough to succeed. That it is filled with wry humour and a certain grace is the great bonus for those curious enough to see it.
Opening on a train journey, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl is the story told by the young male passenger to the middle-aged female in the adjacent seat. When she politely enquires into the reason for his travels, she surely isn’t expecting the tale she is told: working as an accountant for his uncle, Macário (Ricardo Trêpa) is a dull man in a dull world. When one day he glances out of his office window and sees a young blond woman fanning herself in the window across the laneway, his heart is filled with romantic ideas and grand notions. One obstacle after another will arise to thwart their great love and provide the basis for the story he will tell.
There isn’t much more than this to the story, and yet it is in the telling that Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl can separate itself from the more common cinema experience. The relatively straightforward tale is told in a simple and unadorned way, allowing the characters and the sympathy they generate to remain front and centre.
The story of Macário and Luisa (Catarina Wallenstein) is old school, understandably so when one considers the source material, and yet this telling of it seems fresh. Perhaps it is the wry wit that pervades many of the scenes that allows this sensation to develop, as director Manoel de Oliveira certainly seems to know when to allow an absurdity to break the tension. There are several moments when one may find oneself laughing out loud, but generally this film provokes more smirks than laughs. Minor details that can only suggest self-awareness mean Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl will also reward the attentive.
When one considers the film in a modern context – and there is no evidence to suggest it is set in any other time, in spite of the nature of its story and the era of the writer’s prominence – it will be hard to understand the motivations of certain characters, and particularly the reaction of Macário’s uncle. It is never entirely clear why he would require so much of his nephew, unless he really is possessed of the omniscience his behaviour appears to depend upon.
The film is lavishly made, with great attention spent on creating a rich and lush world for the characters to inhabit. It appears that little expense has been spared, although IMDb suggests an estimated budget of only $2.5 million.
It really is hard to fault Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, and the decision to keep things as simple as possible has paid off in spades. At only 64 minutes, the film is a short but sweet introduction to the work of Portugese auteur de Oliveira, and that it has a wonderfully droll sting in its tale is the icing on the cake.Rating: