Film review

João Cesar Monteiro’s Slow Mo Slapstick

A Portuguese auteur’s randy tramp shuffles into the Film Forum.

By Eric Scigliano July 30, 2010

João de Deus gives the wicked world a close look in ‘Remembrances of a Yellow House.’

Picture a winsome, vaguely professorial turkey buzzard. Or, as one teaser describes him, a cross between Woody Allen and Nosferatu. The late Portuguese filmmaker João Cesar Monteiro, whose work the Northwest Film Forum will showcase this weekend and next week was the most unlikely comic-romantic anti-hero since, well, Woody Allen. Wizened and randy, irresistibly ugly and heroically profane, he shuffles and prances through a gorgeously crumbling old Lisbon where even the most quotidian encounters take a surreal turn, cocking his head like a puzzled puppy and spinning off learned allusions and fadoista poetic musings.

In tonight’s showing, the 1989 Remembrances of the Yellow House, Monteiro created João de Deus, the screen alter ego who would occupy the rest of his career (including the other four films the Film Forum will show). This “John of God,” named after the Portuguese patron saint of fishermen, writers, and thieves, is a decidedly un-Chaplinesque tramp. He lives in a bedbug-infested rooming house, sponges off his scrubwoman mom, spars with his pennypinching landlady, befriends a country girl turning tricks in the big city, and pines after (and peeps on) the landlady’s lovely daughter. And then things turn weird.

Monteiro’s sacrilegiousness often draws comparisons to Luis Buñuel, but his is sacrilege chased with Lusitanian melancholy rather than Spanish ferocity. Stylistically he recalls the discursiveness of Eric Rohmer, the deadpan faux naiveté of Jacques Tati, the hypnotic deliberate pacing of Robert Bresson. Very deliberate: This is slow-motion slapstick, Buster Keaton at 16 rpm, at once manic and meditative.

Monteiro went much farther with João de Deus in his subsequent films, and much deeper into his droll, remorseless argument with life, death, God, and fate. But Remembrances of a Yellow House is a good place to start, to see if our Hollywood-addled nerves can take the pace. At 122 minutes, it’s shorter than the others.

Northwest Film Forum, Friday, Jul 30 at 7 (free for Film Forum members, followed by a discussion with program director Adam Sekuler) and 9:30.

The Genius of Insanity: Five Films From João Cesar Monteiro continues with
God’s Comedy, July 31
John Wayne’s Hips, August 1
God’s Wedding, August 2 & 4 at 7pm.
Come and Go/Vai e Vem, August 3 & 5 at 7pm.

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