The rarefied and mostly impenetrable The Northern Land is hardly the first film from 59-year-old Portugese filmmaker João Botelho, but for most of us on these shores it might as well be. Unlikely to be seen in the U.S. outside of the confines of the New York Film Festival, Botelho’s film will remind devoted festivalgoers at times of Rohmer (The Lady and the Duke’s digital backdrops to fussy historical drama), Rivette (forthrightly artificial play-acting), Raul Ruiz (affected Proustian time-collapsing), Maddin (its opening moments, surrounded by irises, appear as though glimpsed through a kinetoscope), and most markedly the director’s fellow countryman and preeminent cinema centenarian Manoel de Oliveira, with whom Botelho seems to share a penchant for a discursive meta brand of filmmaking. And like a handful of Oliveira’s films, this one is based on a novel by Agustina Bessa-Luís (Inquietude, The Uncertainty Principle). Of course, Botelho’s film is reminiscent only of a small portion of Oliveira’s oeuvre—which has gone through so many permutations and sensibilities since Portuguese cinema’s silent age that to reduce it to one mode, even by comparison to another film, is to betray a misunderstanding of it—and The Northern Land needs to be looked at only on its own terms in order to see its shortcomings.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky's review of The Northern Land.