Synopsis by Mark Deming
Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira examines the life of 17th century priest and activist Father Antonio Vieira in this biographical drama based on Vieira's own writings. As the film opens, Vieira (Ricardo Trepa) is a missionary working in Brazil who, in addition to spreading the word about Christianity, is passionately devoted to eliminating slavery and bettering the lives of blacks and indigenous peoples. Hoping to spread the word about his work, Vieira sails to Portugal, nearly losing his life when his ship sinks at sea. In Portugal, Vieira becomes so well respected for his work that he is named the confessor of the royal family, and gains the support of King Joao IV for his crusade. Years later, Vieira (now played by Luis Miguel Cintra) has continued to speak out in favor of progressive causes, his sermons attracting the attention of Queen Christina of Sweden (Leonor Silveira), who persuades Vieira to become her confessor. However, his controversial views raise the ire of Portuguese fundamentalists, putting the priest in great danger. In the film's final act, the elderly Vieira (Lima Duarte), despite poor health and failing eyesight, continues to fight for the causes he believes in as he struggles to complete a final literary work, "The History of The Future." Palavra E Utopia received its North American premiere at the 2000 Montreal World Film Festival.