My interest in seeing Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl was primarily historical: it is the first time in history that a film was made by a 100-year-old director, Portugal's Manoel de Oliveira. His first film, a short documentary, was released 78 years ago, meaning that not only is de Oliveira himself the oldest filmmaker in history, his career is older than virtually every important director in the world right now.

Eccentricities, one of only about a half-dozen of his films that I have seen, doesn't necessarily bear the marks of being made by a man of any particular age, although its limited scope, decidedly cheap videography, and especially its swift running time - all of 64 minutes! - speak to a filmmaker who wanted to get the thing made as quickly as possible. Accordingly, the film has a stubbornly minor feel to it, a trifling little short story of a motion picture that seems to have more on its mind than it's willing to share, although what ends up on screen is hardly worthless, nor is it even, strictly speaking, "bad". It is just very tossed-off and simple.

It opens with, arguably, its boldest shot: as the credits creep by one after another, we watch as a train conductor moves from the front of a car to the back collecting tickets; this also takes him away from the camera. A solid four-minute shot if it's a frame, this opening moment suggests a far more glacially specific film than turns out to be the case, but it does after a while start to create its own lulling rhythm. We are invited to study the car, the people in it, the landscape rushing past, and thus step into the film's world of being. It is the kind of first shot that "ought" to be made by a centenarian, if you'll forgive me for making such a stupid observation: it encourages patience and a willingness to simply pause and observe.

When this shot ends, we are abruptly brought back to the realm of narrativity by a nervous young man (Ricard Trêpa) who rather tremulously asks the woman sitting next to him (Leonor Silveira) if she wouldn't mind if he told her a story. She enthusiastically agrees - nothing worse than a long train ride in silence - and he begins: seems he was once the accountant at his uncle's (Diego Dória) fabric shop in Lisbon, and across the street from his window was the apartment of a striking middle-aged woman (Júlia Buisel), and her absolutely beautiful blonde daughter Luísa (Catarina Wallenstein), who used her elegant Chinese fan as a tool for flirting with the besotted young man who stared at her every day.

Determined to make his fortune and win Luísa's hand, the young man, Macário, risks the displeasure of his uncle and social embarrassment over the course of what we can guess to be several months. It always seems like the world is conspiring against his happiness, but he has dogged determination on his side, and nothing, he thinks, can keep him from his love. Nothing, that is, but the looming spectre of Dramatic Irony.

I must absolutely give de Oliveira this much credit: he does not try to extend this story past its natural breaking point, or make it stand in for more than it ought to. This is a gently amusing fable about one of love's many fools, told in a very credible, very straightforward way. The whole movie has a certain flavor of the old-fashioned to it: the train-bound framing story recalls a 19th Century novel, and the material within feels like a breed of short-story writing that may have never been fashionable, and may still be, but either way it suggests a certain Continental mentality from the early 20th Century, enough so that the presence of things like laptop computers is terrifyingly jarring. I find that it is based upon a story by Eça de Queirós, an author dead in 1900; meaning that if anything I am giving it credit for feeling too modern. At any rate, hand-in-hand with that old-fashioned mustiness, is the promise that all this is meant to be is an idle, interesting tale: let me tell of my life, it may be of interest.

I don't know that it is of interest: certainly the way it's shot isn't. What I know of de Oliveira's work is that he favors tableaux and long takes, something that worked extremely well in a film like Belle toujours. Eccentricities isn't really set up that way, and given how much of it takes place in two rooms across a city street, I can't imagine that it could be; but the director hasn't come up with a terribly interesting or suggestive aesthetic to suit this particular story. I wonder how much of that has to do with the video camera used: it is not a terribly advanced piece of equipment, and the whole project has the certain aura of something thrown together with the materials at hand, quick and dirty, with a remarkable ugly look that stinks of high school film students, circa 1995. At any rate, though the story occasionally achieves a sweet sentimentality, an old man's memory of first love, its visual appearance always holds it at arm's length.

By no means to I want to suggest that the new work by a venerable filmmaker like de Oliveira isn't worth watching simply because de Oliveira made it; that's exactly what drove me to the theater, and exactly what will bring me back for the next of his films to make it over to the United States (and yes, his next film is already in pre-production. Doing what you love keeps you young, don't forget). I must admit, though, that it's nothing very special: its simplicity isn't a mask for anything but simplicity, and while the story and acting and characters aren't emotionally real, the film itself doesn't achieve much beyond a nice use of a free hour. Almost to the minute.