Review: The Uncertainty Principle

The Uncertainty Principle

Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics goes like this: “The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.” Behold, then, Manoel de Oliveira’s The Uncertainty Principle, the 93-year-old director’s classically composed, leisurely paced principle of indeterminacy. Key events transpire off-screen, details are sketchy, and the performances are purposefully catatonic, so much so that the film’s actors could be reading their lines off cue cards. The chatty narrative has something to do with a frigid young Madonna (Leonor Baldaque’s baroness Camila) grappling with her inner Whore (Leonor Silveira’s Madame Vanessa). Joan of Arc’s split personality is summoned at length, calling attention to the film’s spatial symmetry and tense character couplings (Leonor and Camila, Daniel and Torcato, Jose and Antonio). Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire comes to mind but watching Oliveira’s ambiguous stagecraft is not unlike waiting for paint to dry. Seeing as the film lacks momentum and its position remains mostly undeterminable, the director’s experiment is a successful one. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but you may also fall asleep.

Score: 
 Cast: Leonor Baldaque, Leonor Silveira, Isabel Ruth, Ricardo Trêpa, Ivo Canelas, Luis Miguel Cintra, José Manuel Mendes, Júlia Buisel, David Cardoso  Director: Manoel de Oliveira  Screenwriter: Júlia Buisel, António Costa, Manoel de Oliveira, Jacques Parsi  Running Time: 113 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2002  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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