In 1992 Oliveira made O Dia do Desespero, which deals with the last days and suicide of Romantic novelist Camilo Castelo Branco and is based largely on the writer's letters. Most of it was filmed in the house where Cas...展开telo Branco in fact committed suicide. The film opens, midway through the credits, with a 50-second static shot of a pen-and-ink portrait of the writer. Other portraits, always shot with a static camera, punctuate the film's narrative, lending it a documentary tone from the outset.
The spectator might expect, at this point, that the “story” will now begin. However, the man seated at the desk stands up, faces the camera, and introduces himself as the actor Mário Barroso, who will be playing the role of Camilo Castelo Branco (and who played Castelo Branco in the earlier Francisca), and offers information about the writer. A bit later in the film, Ana Madruga, the actress who plays Castelo Branco's companion Ana Plácido, does the same thing, at the same time briefly serving as a “guide” to the Castelo Branco museum where the film was shot. Despite the existence of these ostensibly “documentary” elements – the house, the portraits, the actors presenting themselves as such – O Dia de Desespero, Oliveira insists, is a fiction film, but it is one that refuses to deceive the spectator (in Baecque and Parsi, 56) by pretending to be what it is not. In O Dia de Desespero and other films, Manoel de Oliveira questions the ontological status of such terms as “fiction” and “documentary” and challenges, through the pursuit of his own cinematic vision, some of the filmic and narrative conventions that have come to dominate mainstream commercial cinema. His films also challenge the spectator to think about, rather than passively accept, that which is shown on the screen.