Acto da Primavera (Rite of Spring)

Manoel de Oliveira

While location shooting for another film, Oliveira stumbled upon the subject for Rite of Spring, the annual passion play enacted in a village in the same remote northern region of Portugal (Trás-os-Montes) that would inspire Antonio Reis’s most important work. Intrigued by the ritualistic and incantatory qualities of the vernacular production, Oliveira returned with Reis and set about directing the villagers in a re-enactment of the passion play, adding a rich performative layer to the film. A fascinating meta-ethnographic study of local tradition and history that folds in on itself, Rite of Spring climaxes unexpectedly in a furious Bruce Conner style apocalyptic montage that links Christ’s death to the violent lunacy of the Vietnam era. (Harvard Film Archive)

There was stubbornness in his consciousness, that of a solitary man who, through his camera, reacted to what he saw by trying to perceive where the good was and where the evil was, what were the forces of things which he saw. You could clearly feel the hesitation. And in the midst of the struggle, of the hesitation, suddenly, a decision: this angle, that frame. And such a formal decision did not come from any model, it was like a visceral, instantaneous reaction, without a parachute, taking the risk... What struck me most was this intimate exercise in the rough and tumble of perceiving the world, the camera’s gaze, if you like, but how the perceived matter resists our will, which is good. The camera shakes because it cannot properly perceive what it is seeing. He has never been greater than in these moments, and never has he been more inimitable. This side of him is like an X-ray of emotion, of conscience, of doubt, and there are few equivalents in world cinema.” (Paulo Rocha)


Portuguese spoken, English subtitles
Restored 35mm print courtesy of Cinemateca Portuguesa