Review: Gebo and the Shadow
18.10.2012 - In what amounts to a cinematic living
will of sorts, this enthralling film comes from the elder director
of Europe and the world today, the Portuguese master Manoel de
Oliveira, who is celebrating his 104th birthday next month (and, as
it happens, is already at work on his next film).
In Gebo and the
Shadow, De Oliveira sets out to depict fortune-seeking
souls who rob and steal and overflow with hypocrisy and
selfishness. The cheap and tawdry souls that somehow came to define
today's humanity. He traces the roots of our decay back to the
beginnings of the previous century, where the good soul within our
aging protagonist, Gebo, is surrounded by a harmonious group of
equals, played by Jeanne Moreau and the great Cardinale Claudia,
before simple ethics start to erode.
De Oliveira's French-language screenplay is based on The
Hunchback and his Shadow, a 1923 work by Portuguese playwright
Raul Brandao that is considered a major reference for Samuel
Beckett's masterpiece Waiting for Godot. In lieu of the
absent Godot, Brandao paints the return of the lost son Joao
(Ricardo Trépa) as evidence that a dead conscience would eventually
render its whole environment filthy. This grimy moral creature
takes pleasure in testing its own will against others, in deceit
and blackmail. Begging, stealing and lying are mere forms of
The pure angst in De Oliveira's film is a product of the rotten,
ignorant and chauvinistic milieu he depicts so subtly, yet so
vividly. The son is in fact the product of absolute poverty, and a
world in a constant state of collapse, this certainty of suspended
life, of death, is brilliantly captured in the last frame. It
freezes; it does not fade away.
The family of three go through the motions of being alive with
complete despondency. The patriarch is bent on labouring every day,
out of utter need or the fate of responsibility. His wife exerts
herself to maintaining the moral high ground in the face of the
constant testing and questioning presented by her neighbor
(Moreau), while the daughter-in-law is sentenced to the long wait
that drains her youth and her soul.
The scenes are captured with understated but still striking
cinematography by the Swiss Renato Berta that remains true to the
theatrical origins of the film. The camera, as if through the eyes
of one patient meticulous spectator, brings out the tortures raging
within the capable actors, trapped within the cold, austere
one-room set so superbly created by Ezabelle Gerard.
Gebo and the Shadow screens at Emirates Palace on
Thursday 18 October at 6:30 pm; and screens again at VOX Cinemas on
Saturday 20 October at 1:30 pm.
Ziad Al Khuzai