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Jose Alvaro Morais's first feature, O bobo, winner of first prize at the Locarno Film Festival, is set in 1978 during the onset of the right-wing backlash against the Portuguese revolution. A group of friends are staging a play adapted from Alexandre Herculano's novel The Jester--a mythic romance built around scenes from Portuguese history--in the abandoned film studio Lisboa Filmes. The film alternates between scenes from the play and intrigues among the friends who are putting it on--including the murder of the instigator of the project, whose body is discovered in the studio during the rehearsal of the final scene. Six years in the making, the film presupposes a certain knowledge about Portuguese culture and recent history that admittedly I don't have; but even though I occasionally found myself at sea in following all the significations, the beauty of the mise en scene and Mario de Carvalho's photography, and the grace with which Morais negotiates between different time frames and modes of narration, kept me entranced. Combining the meditative offscreen dialogue of a film like India Song with the use of a historical play to investigate national identity (as in Ruiz's Life Is a Dream), The Jester offers a complex, multilayered view of revolutionary retrenchment that is worthy to stand alongside some of the best films of Manoel de Oliveira. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, December 19, 4:00, and Sunday, December 20, 2:00, 443-3737)

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