A terrifying scene near the beginning of the film shows priest and doctor gossiping about Benilde’s condition, only for the white figure of Benilde to slowly materialize in the background, accented by a sharp change in music. Though it never goes into full surrealism, scenes like this would come to dominate de Oliviera’s career.
Benilde is a whole other, staggering thing. Where Past and Present feints in the direction of something like naturalism, using standard adaptation devices to render itself less “stagy” (mid-conversation cuts to different settings etc.), Benilde basically takes José Régio’s play as gospel... Anyone who was raised under too protectively sheltered circumstances will get Benilde on a visceral level.
A film that caused a scandal when it was released in Portugal, Benilde focuses on a young upper-class virgin who becomes mysteriously pregnant, having been, by her own testimony, impregnated by an angel of God. The film neither contradicts nor confirms her claim, and the fascinating use of offscreen sound makes the ambiguity even more vibrant. It’s a film I cherish for its sensuality and its erotic mystery.