movie film review | chris tookey
 
death by raspberry
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  Abraham Valley (1989)
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An interminable Portuguese update of Madame Bovary

A movie for all who found The Quince Tree Sun over-exciting. Some art-house films are slow, but this three-hour epic by 86 year-old film-maker Manoel de Oliveira looks as if it might have been directed by Geoffrey Boycott's more cautious older brother.
The film has the style, elegant framing, and ponderous symbolism of an early Merchant Ivory; it is a constant surprise to observe that the characters are in modern dress. There is much bad acting of the Brian Blessed/ Simon Callow school - ie phoney, uproarious laughter in response to lines which not even the studio audience for The Danny Baker Show could find amusing.
Although the story of Emma Bovary is all about sex, this film has all the eroticism of a February edition of Country Life. The job of the leading lady (Leonor Silveira) is to look elegant, enigmatic and backlit, while the men around her pontificate in a manner which one can only hope was intended to be foolish and pompous.
It would be possible to be more positive, were it not for an intrusive voice-over by the director himself, which strives to be poetic but succeeds only in being prosaic and pretentious. The subtitle-writers have outdone themselves in rendering these utterances preposterous. "Disappointed by Osorio's absence," intones the narrator weightily, "Emma put on a boiler suit."
When, more than two hours into this three-hour ordeal, the voice-over assured us that "Emma was intent on stepping up the pace of her existence," I regret to report that this brought forth hollow laughter from that hard core of critics still awake.
(Chris Tookey, Sunday Telegraph)

Key to Symbols