A sinister, absorbing portrait of a mutually destructive love affair, Maneol de Oliveira’s Francisca is based on a novel by Agustina Bessa-Luís, whose work he’d later adapt twice more. The book’s re-telling of a troubled passage in real-life author Camilo Castelo Branco life—his friend José Augusto embarked on a perverse game of marital cat and mouse with Francisca, the woman the novelist loved—led Oliveira to new levels of stylistic and formal imagination. (It helped that his wife, a distant relative of the historical Francisca, gave him access to a cache of the woman’s letters.) With its elaborate title cards, its abundance of shots in which the action is oriented directly toward the camera, its gloomy interiors, and its show-stopping gala set-pieces, Francisca is an exacting, sumptuous and utterly inimitable cinematic experience, and one of Oliveira’s crowning achievements.
Francisca premiered in 1981 as an official selection in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. The new 4K digital restoration by the Cinemateca Portuguesa premiered at the 76th Venice Film Festival in 2019.