Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Movie name: Orlando
Year of release: 1992
Director: Sally Potter
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, John Wood, Heathcote Williams, Quentin Crisp, Charlotte Valandrey
Genre: Independent
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Sally Potter used Virginia Wolf’s novel “Orlando” to express the path of a woman, who started of as a man, and that ultimately sought, as everyone, a space of her own, where to simply be herself and be loved.

“Orlando” is a modern classic for a variety of different reasons. When released in 1992, the film rode waves of good reviews, equally praising the audacity of the filmmaker and also the sheer beauty and wondrous performance of it’s leading lady, Tilda Swinton. If time has proved anything, that is the fact that Tilda Swinton is a magnificent actress – something that was already on display before “Orlando” came out, on the films she had done with Derek Jarman, namely “Edward II” and “Caravaggio” - and in the meantime she has done films as different as “The Deep End” and “The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.
“Orlando”, adapted from a novel by Virginia Woolf (Marleen Gorris adapted one of her other novels, “Mrs. Dalloway”, with Vanessa Redgrave), tells the story of an aristocrat since the 16th century to our present days, during which he experiences love, death, loss, political and social games, sex and rebirth. The film divides itself in those sections, for instance “Love”, “Death”, “Politics”, each representing key events that happen in Orlando’s life. The character is presented to the audience in the first frames, as a child of privilege, an aristocrat that is also a poet, a character that enjoys “loneliness and isolation”, a romantic, to summarize it. However Sally Potter, the director throws here an irreverent touch that imbues the film with an irony that ends up creating more than just a stunning “period” film – Orlando/Tilda Swinton addresses the camera directly, showcasing his/her thoughts to the audience, making us direct accomplices of his/hers adventures (though not in the same way that Matthew Broderick did in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, who at the end of the film told the audience to “go home”). The first section of the film introduces us to Orlando, and his vision of the world – it also introduces us to the concept behind his longevity and the way that will also connect him with his house (and for all intended purposes, England). Queen Elizabeth, played by the iconic Quentin Crisp, is smitten by Orlando’s beauty and youth, and she gives him and his heirs the mansion/house, as long as he never “grows old, never withers”. These early scenes are shot, as well as the remaining film, with such beautiful and detailed compositions, that most of the times it feels as if though you’re actually looking at paintings reenacted. A lot of the praise here should go to the beautiful costumes that Sandy Powel created and also for the director of photography, Alexei Rodianov – they both have given the film more than just “eye candy” – they have created a personality and a beauty that still marks and haunts whomever sees the film. Throughout Orlando’s story, with the perception of politics and the way some liberties are gained, he changes from man to woman, and this is what we hear from him/her – “same person, just different sex”. This is very much a film directed by a woman in a sense you actually see the evolution of Orlando, from her early steps as a woman that goes into society – and the way women are considered “window dressing” - to Orlando’s own choices and decisions which she pretty much has to deal with when it becomes clear that she, and her gender, have no rights. This is a wonderful story, one where the main character states right at the beginning what she aims for - companionship, love, something that she experiences at the beginning of the film, as a man with a Russian woman, Sasha, played by Charlotter Valandrey, and afterwards as a woman, with an American man, played by Billy Zane. Orlando goes through the centuries until our days (and you can relate to the passage of the centuries through the wonderful costumes), a time where she visits her now lost house, with her daughter, her heir, and even though she has lost the house, she has finally gained what she always wanted – love, unconditional one that comes from herself and from her daughter. When Orlando at the end of the film looks directly at the camera, it’s peace and happiness that shines through – she has finally found her place (and that’s what Jimmy Sommerville sings).
Sally Potter created with this film a stunning work of art – In her following films, “The Tango Lesson”, “The Man Who Cried” and “Yes”, she has managed to create unique experiences, but somehow always a bit flawed, something that doesn’t happen in “Orlando” – the film is beautifully shot, the sense of humor that is present throughout gives it an undeniable edge and Tilda Swinton’s performance is simply unforgettable.