English Title: Voyage to the Beginning of the World
Original Title: Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo
Country: Portugal, France
Language: French, Portuguese
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Manoel de Oliveira
Manoel de Oliveira
Music: Emmanuel Nuñes
Cinematography: Renato Berta
Isabel de Castro
Cécile Sanz de Alba
A road-trip pans out like an impromptu documentary, four passengers, Manoel (Mastroianni), an aging film director, two actors, Afonso (Gautier) and Judite (Silveira), plus the assistant Duarte (Dória), roving around a rural Portugal in a minivan. This is Portugal’s national treasure Manoel de Oliveira’s VOYAGE TO THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD, made when he was 89-year-old young.
Sentiment prevails inexorably because this film is Marcello Mastroianni’s swan song, posthumously released one year after his departure at the age of 72, instantaneously, his image, a stooped old man, assisted by a walking stick, can breach a cinephile’s defense line and allow one to pour out oceanic compassion to an indwelt screen icon with an inward wail. Yet, Mastroianni isn’t playing himself, he is the avatar of Mr. de Oliveira, therefore, his self-reflection and nostalgia on youth, senility and life itself, can be ambivalently stemmed from either Marcello or Manoel through their amassed life philosophy.
But the trip’s de facto goal, is to set up a belatedly first meeting between Afonso and his paternal auntie Maria Afonso (de Castro). Born and raised entirely in France, and unequipped with his progenitor’s mother tongue, Afonso embarks on the journey of discovering his biological root, to the place where his deceased father was born, with both trepidation and excitement. Here, countering the film’s prior conversation-piece laden perambulation, Manoel leavens the drama with concentrated efficacy through Maria Afonso’s initial cynical grumble (the legendary Portuguese actress Isabel de Castro furnishes the close-ups with searing potency), only to be thawed by an underlined consanguineous relation that transcends all the words.
Spasmodically enhancing the vignettes (often in the tailgate shots facing the road they have merely traversed) is an eerie, eclectic soundscape confected by Emmanuel Nuñes, ranging from jangling to surreal, VOYAGE TO THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD, like its title indicates, is a humane travelogue to a corner on the earth which is largely forgotten by the rest of the world, as if time freezes, the beginning remains to be disinterred.