The Satin Slipper

What can one say about a seven-hour love story in which the central affair is never consummated and the “lovers” hardly ever meet? This amazing 1985 film by veteran Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, based on the 1924 play by Paul Claudel (which was nine hours long when first performed), is more than a love story–it’s also about the attempt of imperial Spain to conquer the planet for Christ. Set around the world, the film’s eye-popping beauty depends not on realism for its sensuality but the opposite: some of the theatrical sets, for example, are clearly fake, such as the mechanical ocean waves behind a ship with mechanical fish leaping up between them. This does more than unmask cinematic artifice–it underscores the film’s intertwined illusions of conquest and love, both of which are doomed to failure. Characters stand in front of these sets and speak as if from a theater stage; like the fake sets they deny us escapist involvement while concentrating our attention on the ideas. The film’s power comes from the tension between the elements that seem to render its characters as “real”–the vividness of its sensual colors and sets and long takes–and simultaneous presentation of them as artificial constructions: it’s as if one is seeing illusion being built up and destroyed at the same time. This dual vision perfectly parallels the plot, in which the hopes inherent in the love story and in the ambition of uniting the world under one religion and one king are themselves revealed as human delusions–failed ideals that can never be achieved. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, part one: Friday, August 16, 6:30; Saturday, August 17, 4:00; Sunday, August 18, 2:00; Monday and Wednesday, August 19 and 21, 6:30; part two: Saturday, August 17, noon and 7:30; Sunday, August 18, 5:30; and Tuesday and Thursday, August 20 and 22, 6:30; 281-4114.

–Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo from The Satin Slipper.