Omnibus films are like cobblestone streets: Their bumpiness is both unavoidable and part of the charm, while success depends on a persuasive organizing principle apart from just a bunch of stones thrown together. For this new portmanteau, it’s a bit of both, with four shorts from a quartet of extraordinary filmmakers, each in their own way paying homage to the northern Portuguese city of Guimarães. Yet the extreme variance of style and scrutability makes for wildly disorienting viewing.
“Tavern Man,” by Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki, offers a largely silent, day-in-the-life portrait of a lonely café proprietor struggling to draw patrons to his off-the-main-square establishment. “Sweet Exorcism,” Pedro Costa’s entry, is an absurdist, aggressively alienating one-act in which an elderly man, still shell-shocked from 1974’s civil war, encounters a life-size toy soldier. In “Vidros Partidos,” Spain’s Víctor Erice (Spirit of the Beehive) remembers a 19th-century factory by shooting “screen tests” in which actors perform monologues based on workers’ real-life recollections. And in the gently satiric “O Conquistador Conquistado,” 104-year-old Manoel de Oliveira empathizes with Guimarães’ historic statuary, patiently looking down upon photo-snapping tourists with grim bemusement.
Though strong, the Costa and Erice submissions seem better suited as rigorous stand-alones, making the Kaurismaki and De Oliveira chapters feel both welcome and trifling by comparison. They’re all worthy slices—even if none seem essential to the whole.
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