Oliveira’s fourth feature, adapted from a play by his close friend José Régio, was one of his major breakthroughs as a filmmaker: a fable about a deeply sheltered young woman who tells her wealthy, religious parents that she’s been impregnated in the wake of an angelic visitation. It’s possible to take Benilde, or the Virgin Mother as a scathing denouncement of religious hypocrisy, a veiled response to the abuses of the Salazar regime, or a set of obsessive, carefully staged formal exercises—or some combination of the three. Whatever else, it’s a sensual, technically virtuosic, and wholly ambiguous movie, and as good a key as any to its director’s subsequent work: Oliveira would keep returning to its spectral, suggestive atmosphere through his last films.

  • Directed By Manoel de Oliveira
  • 1975
  • Portugal
  • Portuguese with English subtitles
  • 35mm
  • 112 minutes