The film charts the privilaged existence of a young Portugese woman from childhood to married life.
A free adaptation of Madame Bovary by veteran Portugese director Manuel De Oliviera, this clocks in at over three hours and, in spite of some excellent performances, it is weighty, ponderous and inert. Concentrating on the life and loves of Ema, a beautiful young Portugese woman with a captivatingly fatal flaw - a limp - the film jumps from her late childhood (when she is played by de Alba) to her early adulthood without ever once specifying a period.
Ema marries young. Once hitched to a provincial doctor (Luis Miguel Cintra), however, she soon becomes bored and takes up with a local aristocrat. She goes power-boating, attends pretentious dinner parties and becomes over-fond of the aristo's manor house. This is an excuse for many highly literate chats about art, desire, and death, but the real power of the film lies in its understanding of the language of looks and gestures.
A pity, then, that de Oliviera opts for a crushingly exquisite voice-over to explain the significance of every movement onscreen. It is meant to be a distancing device adding to the elliptical framings and the carefully orchestrated juxtapositions of landscape, music, paintings and symbol, but it merely becomes redundant and distracting.
The film as a whole makes very little attempt to put its various arty fetishes into any kind of context. Worth it, though, for the odd flashes of insight.