The Uncertainty Principle (2002) Review
By Rachel Gordon
Social class, prideful martyrdom, and a dollop of beautifully expansive landscape weave a tale of operatic proportions, both by plot and physically exhaustive standards, in veteran Manoel de Oliveira's latest exploration of motivation. Marrying for money instead of childhood love, Camila (Leonor Baldaque) naïvely assumes the supposed epic and selfless attributes of Joan of Arc to deal with her husband's infidelity and the consistent treatment of being irrelevant to the very people that encouraged the doomed match.
When The Uncertainty Principle isn't relishing placing Camila within the bleakly lush settings of her prison, it takes the time to humorously discuss philosophical ideas with an energy that keeps character interaction enjoyable. It can never be fully surmised if Camila's passivity is an effort at provoking guilt out of those in her environment or if she is internalizing some imagined voice emanating from the cobwebbed statue she visits frequently, so her erratic impulses are continually amusing. Also well executed is the slowly mounting, subtly-played tension between her lifelong crush Jose (Ricardo Trêpa) and apathetic husband Antonio (Ivo Canelas) for the possible fate of the woman they share.
Unexpectedly, the source of Antonio's adultery is a missed opportunity in the amount of time she is given to communicate with others. Vanessa (Leonor Silveira) seems to be grasping at the last of her possibilities at respectability. She has a truly unique struggle of balancing the grudging feelings she has for an ungrateful married man and wanting to protect the immature princess that shares his home. Combine this with the fact that she has money and connections because she runs a brothel... but will never surpass Camila's rank despite her extra life experience and Camila's forced provincialism. The few moments that pit the two women together are pricelessly biting satire.
But while some of the emotional uproars are stunning, or even hilarious, it takes so long to build to those climaxes that it's easy to let your eyes close for a few minutes and still not miss much of importance. Several conversations repeat themselves, and the additional scenes of the Roper brothers as Camila's previous tutors serve no other purpose than to over-extend an already lengthy story.
Though excessively tiresome, The Uncertainty Principle, as verbally pretentious as the title may be, has its handful of redeeming features, as long as you discount its ability to bore.
Reviewed at the 2002 New York Film Festival. Aka O Princípio da Incerteza.
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