Talking Pictures

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Orlando,

Posted by keith1942 on April 5, 2014

Orlando_2
One of the films screened as part of the Bradford International Film Festival retrospective of the work of  Sally Potter. This is a multi-industry production, taking in the UK, Russia, France and the Netherlands. But the main protagonist in the film, Orlando (Tilda Swinton) travels farther and longer than all of these combined. This is an adaptation of the novel by Virginia Woolf, which I have not read. Over four hundred years Orlando and the film travel from Elizabethan England I to Elizabethan England II. At a key moment in this journey Orlando changes gender, from a comely youth to a comely maiden: whilst apparently not ageing at all.

The film offers a series of beautiful sequences – the court of Elizabeth 1st: a C17th Russian delegation visiting the England: an ambassadorial embassy to a North African court: the C18th satirical scene: World War I very briefly and then the then contemporary UK. The mise en scène, especially the settings, decor and costumes, are finely presented. The transitions are often elliptical and ambiguous, but the connecting thread is the very fine performance by Tilda Swinton.

The narrative has both irony and an arch quality. There are recurring looks and asides from Orlando directly to the camera and the audience. When I first saw the film on its original release it struck me as a beautifully realised satire [amongst other points] on the UK Heritage film. Re-visiting it I also felt an ironic take on the films of Peter Greenaway.

There is clearly a strong feminist standpoint in the film. However, it other ways it is not noticeably political. For example, the 1740’s sequence completely ignores the great Puritan revolution. I take this to be a reflection of Woolf’s novel. And there is a similar absence in the presentation of Russia, Africa and World War I.

This was the film that first established Potter as a distinctive film voice. It remains one of her best works. She does seem to have a definite affinity for adaptation. I do feel that there are authors other than Woolf who can provide a more substantial narrative and thematic core.

The film was screened on HD-Cam, and looked pretty good. It is sad though that there is not a 35mm print of this film available.

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