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"'Abraham Valley', a loose update of 'Madame Bovary', is easily the finest, most nuanced and adventurous adaptation of Flaubert's classic novel. Director Manoel de Oliveira keeps the main outline of the book - the young Emma, daughter of a lax landownver, marries a decent but dull older doctor called Charles (Carlos), and stifles in a respectable social milieu of parties and country mansions, escaping through a series of adulterous liaisons. Unlike her literary ancestor, though, Emma is not characterised as an impressionable reader of romances - the only book we see her reading is 'Madame Bovary', to whose heroine she repeatedly denies any similarity.'Update' is the wrong word for what de Oliveira does in this extraordinary film. Like his other literary adaptations (most recently his reworking of Mme de Lafayette's 'The Princess of Cleves', 'The Letter'), the director plays with a variety of time-scales. Whatever its status as a 'modern' novel, 'Bovary' is still recognisably a 19th century work, replicated here in the dominant, omniscient third-person narrator, who traverses all social boundaries, comments and philosophises freely and has access to each character's innermost thoughts and feelings. The setting, however, is more contemporary (referring in passing to a 1974 revolution), with its modern clothes, cars, conveniences. The film fuses this familiar setting and what takes place in it, elaborate rituals and gatherings, and archaic modes of thought and speech that belong not only to the 19th century, but also the elegant formality of de Oliveira's beloved 18th; some compositions even recall the Renaissance paintings liberally alluded to throughout. In its choreography of long, static tableaux, performance, locations (interior and exterior), colour and music, the film frequently recalls that other great, hypnotic literary adaptation, Kubrick's 'Barry Lyndon'.'Abraham Valley' is Total Cinema, de Oliveira's deceptively flat compositions and largely unmoving camera achieving a Bressonian three-dimensionality, through the equivalent importance given to sound, movement (or lack of) and light (when the camera does move, it feels giddy and miraculous). Flat scenes suddenly become layered, still empty spaces foregrounded while miniature activity bustles in the deep-focus background. The narrative itself is similarly dense, the apparent point of any given scene deflecting deeper, more penetrating concerns (the brilliant violin soiree, for instance; or the political discussion pressure-cooked by a cat being stroked). The surface of narrative and psychology is constantly being penetrated to open out older, less tangible, even superstitious and primeval mysteries, revealed through mirrors, trance-like rites, or the uncanny influence of moon and river. The generally restrained use of colour can quickly explode with a burning red rose or shimmer with a hazy white and pale blue dress. Be warned, 'Valley' will not be to everyone's taste: at a leisurely three hours, it demands intense concentration and openness - some will find it interminable and pretentious. Give in to its rhythm and strange beauty, however, and you will be rewarded with one of the richest experiences in modern cinema."
WARNING The DVD Transfer is Faulty
Matt Langdon | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/07/2003
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great movie and one that people should see. However, Vanguard Cinema has transferred the film FLAT when it should have been transferred SCOPE, which means all of the actors are squeezed and look like they are tall thin aliens. It's very distracting and considering the film is 3 hours long this ruins the film. I wish for this film to be seen and if the VHS version is available I recommend it. UPDATE: It is possible this looks okay on 16x9 TV's because the image then would s-t-r-e-t-c-h out."
This may not be the director's cut
Peter Henne | San Pedro, CA | 01/26/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"If the running length is 187 minutes as claimed, then the film has been cut by about 16 minutes. Perhaps the distributor trimmed the film to make it fit on a single disc? Cutting a single frame out of a Manoel de Oliveira film is inexcusable. The film should be seen in its proper aspect ratio and running time."
Sublime Film, average DVD transposition
J. N. Valente | Evora, Portugal | 12/12/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Decidedly inspired by 'Madame Bovary' but more closely adapted from its namesake Agustina Bessa-Luís' novel, Abraham Valley is a cinematic masterpiece, tracing more than the main character's ennui de vivre (my apologies if it sounds pretentious...) to encompass a whole repressed way of living that is set in the second half of the 20th century but might easily feel familiar to any 18th century Flaubert.
The cinematography and spectacular scenery of the Douro valley in northern Portugal (where all of the exteriors were shot) are a work of art all by itself.
It's a pity that the DVD doesn't add much more to this gem of a movie. Still - that should be no reason to keep you from having it in your collection."
See the film, don't buy the Vanguard DVD....
Grigory's Girl | NYC | 03/24/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is another other wordly, serene, austere, meditative work by Portugal's greatest filmmaker, Manoel de Oliveira. It's a loose update of the Madame Bovary story by Flaubert, and it's an immensely sad, tragic, beautiful, and haunting film, one of de Olveira's most interesting and fascinating films. It has some of the greatest photography in Manoel's work (the shots of the valley are breathtaking). It has wonderful, pointed narration. It is somewhat reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (something mentioned by another reviewer here), both in photography, tone, narration, and pace. The dialogue here is more intellectual and thought provoking than in Lyndon. It is a typical dense, multi layered work by de Olveira, and it's one of his best films. Despite the pace of the film being slow, it flies by quite considerably. De Oliveira's films are endlessly fascinating to me. This film reminds me of his film The Fifth Empire-Yesterday as Today, and how it's very talky (intellectual talky), and many of the camera shots are static, yet, it's absolutely fascinating and both films really fly by despite their lengthy running times (Abraham's Valley is 203 minutes, The Fifth Empire-Yesterday as Today is 127 minutes) and languid pacing.
The Vanguard DVD here is not a good transfer. Avoid it. I saw this film at a retrospective of de Oliveira's work at BAM Rose Cinemas, and it was the full length version, projected at 1.85:1, and in Portuguese with English subtitles. The DVD is 1.33:1, the image is distorted, it's not the full length version, and it's dubbed into French, so it should be avoided at all costs.
I would normally give the film 5 stars, but it gets four here because of the poor quality DVD."