Cinema and Media Studies Manoel de Oliveira
Randal Johnson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0160


Manoel de Oliveira (b. 1908, Porto–d. 2015, Porto) was Portugal’s most important film director. His career spanned eight decades from his first film, the silent “Douro, Faina Fluvial” (1931), to his last, “O Velho do Restelo” (2014). Living under a dictatorship—the Estado Novo (New State)—from the early 1930s until 1974, he was able to direct only two features in his first forty years as a filmmaker: Aniki-Bobó (1942), which portrays a group of children who play along the banks of the Douro River in Porto, and Acto de Primavera (1963), in which he films a reenactment of the Passion of Christ performed by the inhabitants of a small town in northern Portugal. He did, however, make a number of documentaries during this period. Oliveira’s fortunes began to change in the early 1970s, when he initiated a series of four films that would later come to be known as the “tetralogy of frustrated love”: O Passado e o Presente (1971), Benilde ou a Virgem Mãe (1975), Amor de Perdição (1978), and Francisca (1981). With the release of Amor de Perdição in Paris, in the year when he celebrated his seventieth birthday, Oliveira’s career took off internationally. Between 1985 and 2014, Oliveira directed twenty-five features plus numerous short films. Starting with Le Soulier de satin (1985), several of his films were French-Portuguese co-productions shot in French. Most of Oliveira’s films are based on literary works. His adaptations of narrative and dramatic works have allowed him to explore differences between literary, theatrical, and cinematic modes of expression in the process of creating his own aesthetic, which goes against the grain of mainstream conventions. Given the fact that his films have circulated much more widely in Europe than in the United States, it is not surprising that most of the critical attention dedicated to his work has been in languages other than English, particularly Portuguese, French, and Italian. The following bibliography focuses largely on Portuguese and French material, bringing in English-language items as possible.


Despite Oliveira’s long career and increasing recognition as Portugal’s most significant, and one of Europe’s most important, filmmakers, the first monographs on his work did not begin to appear until the late 1990s, first in Portugal with the work of Matos-Cruz 1996, then in France through the efforts of Prédal 1999 and Parsi 2002. Perhaps not surprisingly, these initial works tend to be organized chronologically, attempting to account for the emergence, development, and evolution of Oliveira’s work. The same can be said of Buisel 2002, which tells the story of Oliveira’s career through photographs, letters, and assorted ephemera, and Johnson 2007. Book-length studies that attempt to grasp the significance of Oliveira’s films by focusing on diverse stylistic or thematic characteristics, rather than chronological development, began to appear only in 2008, coinciding with the filmmaker’s one hundredth birthday (Lavin 2008, Preto 2008). Several shorter books focusing on a single film have appeared in recent years: Cruchinho 2003 (cited under Theater and Opera (1985–1988)) on Os Canibais, Lavin 2012 (cited under Literature and Cinema) on Vale Abraão, and Pina 2012 (cited under The Early Works, 1931–1963) on Aniki-Bobó. Given their more specific nature, they are listed along with other items dealing with the films in question. Finally, one should be aware that other monographs on Oliveira have also appeared in Germany, Italy, and other countries in recent years. Thomas Brandlmeier’s Manoel de Oliveira und das groteske Melodram (2010) and Bruno Roberti’s Manoel De Oliveira: Il visibile dell’invisibile (2013) are two such books that are worthy of attention.

  • Buisel, Júlia. Manoel de Oliveira: fotobiografia. Lisbon, Portugal: Livraria Figueirinhas, 2002.

    A richly illustrated “photobiography” of Oliveira that includes film stills and photographs of the director, friends, family, and film professionals; facsimile versions of letters written to or by Oliveira; testimonials; a complete filmography up until 2002; and a list of awards and honors received.

  • Johnson, Randal. Manoel de Oliveira. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

    In the first book on Oliveira published in English, Johnson follows the director’s work chronologically, discussing his conception of film language, his view of film and theater, his literary adaptations, and many of the thematic concerns his films have explored, such as religion, frustrated love, empire, memory and aging.

  • Lavin, Mathias. La parole et le lieu: Le cinéma selon Manoel de Oliveira. Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires Rennes, 2008.

    Rejecting a chronological approach, given the diversity and complexity of Oliveira’s work, Lavin identifies a series of stylistic or thematic traits that characterize films from different periods of Oliveira’s career, with a special focus, as the title indicates, on issues related to language and place. An important study.

  • Matos-Cruz, José de. Manoel de Oliveira e a Montra das Tentações. Lisbon, Portugal: Sociedade Portuguesa de Autores, Publicações Dom Quixote, 1996.

    Written by a film scholar associated with the Cinemateca Portuguesa, the book opens with an extensive panoramic interview with Oliveira, followed by brief comments and details on each of films up to 1996, including his short films. Also includes a chronology and bibliography.

  • Parsi, Jacques. Manoel de Oliveira: Cinéaste portugais. Paris: Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian, 2002.

    One of Oliveira’s most knowledgeable followers and collaborators in France offers his view of Oliveira’s cinematic trajectory that interweaves biographical and historical information with insightful comments on his films. Parsi has had a long professional and personal relationship with Oliveira, which gives him a perspective that few others share.

  • Prédal, René. Manoel de Oliveira: le texte et l’image. Paris: L’Avant-Scène, 1999.

    In this major book-length study of Oliveira, Prédal’s self-described “descriptive” approach serves as a means of going beyond facile characterizations and understanding the aesthetic construction of Oliveira’s films and many of the cinematic, philosophical, religious, social, cultural, and political issues that have concerned him since the beginning of his career.

  • Preto, António. Manoel de Oliveira, O Cinema Inventado à Letra. Porto, Portugal: Fundação Serralves, 2008.

    Published on the occasion of the centennial of Oliveira’s birth and organized in six chapters, Preto discusses the construction of the image and other formal characteristics of Oliveira’s films, including his characters’ gaze, his use of static sequence shots, his use of verbal language, and his relationship to other arts.

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