8 April 2005 | jaimie_burguoix
a psychological drama - the latest Portuguese masterpiece
Manoel De Oliveira is one of the oldest and most respected Portuguese directors - yet not especially appreciated by the general Portuguese public. This latest movie of his, directed at the age of 96, revisits a subject he's very fond of - the life of D. Sebastião. Sebastião was a very young Portuguese King of the sixteenth century, who inherited a weakened kingdom in need of a strong leader. His education was based on story-telling about ancient Portuguese conquerers, and created on him a wish to retrieve old glories. So, instead of focusing on social issues, he went on a battle on Northen Africa (Alcácer Quibir), where he would be killed. (Note: this doesn't expose the plot; in fact, it's important to understand the movie)
The story isn't new to any Portuguese person, yet this movie treats it in a completely new way. The lives and deeds of kings usually restrain directors to epic movies: that is something seen. "O Quinto Império - Ontém Como Hoje" is something new. Manoel De Oliveira fully explores the psychological dimension of the myth, and he does it with mastery. In consequence, the whole movie is very theatrical, and depends greatly on actor's performances rather than on action. Indeed, it is a very still movie, in terms of physical action. However, there is immense psychological development. The plot develops in a crescendo, becoming more and more intense, suffocating the characters into insanity. Every image, every object and detail has its own meaning, progressively significant.
The acting is of superior quality. Luís Miguel Cintra (who plays Sapateiro Santo) is, perhaps, one of the best Portuguese contemporary actors, and really does an outstanding job on this film. Ricardo Trêpa (who plays D. Sebastião) is a very promising actor, and all the cast is very very good. The only negative feature of "O Quinto Império" is its being a bit too long, which may send some public away.
In conclusion, I'll say this is an example of quality Portuguese cinema (so lacking these days). However, it will always be underrated and treated badly - that is shameful.