I'm Going Home

dir. Manoel de Oliveira

Opens Fri Feb 7

Cinema 21

I'm Going Home, officially titled Je rentre a la maison, is a film about being old, made by a man who knows a thing or two about the subject. Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira is in his mid-90s, and still active as a filmmaker. He's directed many films and documentaries in several countries and all mediums, including silent ones, having worked since the golden year of 1931. This extensive history is much like the octogenarian actor protagonist of this meditative death rattle of a movie, which confronts tragedy with work.

We first see Gilbert Valence (played by the great Michel Piccoli who, at 76, is nearly a quarter-century younger than the director) on the stage, performing in Ionesco's play Exit the King; more to the point, what we mainly see is his back. Oliveira is fixated on long, silent takes of seemingly insignificant objects--a pair of shoes, a street view through a shop window--which mutely echo the deliberate progress of old age. After receiving news of his family's death, he moves through life with an added emphasis on what matters (respect for his craft, devotion to his grandson). When an American director (played by John Malkovich) offers him a last-minute role in a production of Ulysses, Valence can't resist, but soon finds himself overmatched by the language (Valence is French), and suddenly unmoored.

Nothing much happens in I'm Going Home (and it takes its time), but the film's gentle sadness is gripping nonetheless.