Sometimes good films go underappreciated. Maybe it is because they are not marketed correctly. Maybe it is because they are unusual and don't appeal to wide audience. And that hit's the nail on the head when it comes to Sally Potter's (Tango Lesson, Yes) Orlando. It is a lush and well acted film based on a novel by Virginia Woolf that hasn't been seen by many (despite two Oscar nominations), but those of us who have seen have recognized its brilliance.
Sometimes the impossible is possible if you just believe. The young nobleman Orlando (Tilda Swinton – Adaptation, Michael Clayton) is ordered by Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp – To Wong Foo Thank for Everything, Julie Newmar) to remain forever young. Somehow he is able to defy all laws of nature and stays the same age forever.
We follow Orlando through several hundreds of years. Through love and poetry Orlando searches for his place in the world. From the late 16th century this unique creature goes on a philosophical quest of whether he wants to experience it as a man or a woman.
When Orlando decides that he is fed up with being a male and all the disgusting behaviour that usually accompanies what it means to male, he switches to a woman in the late 18th century. Orlando explores the world through his relationships with people of both sexes.
The war between the sexes has gone on forever and is the thread that runs throughout the film. What it means to be a man or a woman is examined and also the concept of androgyny. Sex and gender and their division is stated strongly at different points. Using comedy and drama this is explored though a series of smaller vignettes that make up the larger story.
The critics loved the film. And what's not to like? Every facet of it is done so well. Acting, story, cinematography, directing, and costumes are all beyond reproach.
Tilda Swinton is great in whatever she does, so it is not surprising that she is wonderful in this challenging role. Though she is more convincing as a woman (go figure) she still does a great job being a man. Using her face and different expressions Swinton conveys much. Radiating intelligence and depth this is a star making turn. In a unique twist Swinton actually breaks the wall between actor and viewer and plays to the camera. She speaks directly to the audience. Many things about the film are innovative, creative and looking for new ways to present the story.
Visually the film is stunning. The skating party scene on the Thames, the bedrooms and the tent-caravan in Asia are all gorgeous and that kind of lushness is not often seen. The architecture, outdoors and costumes seem to almost be characters of their own.
Because it is so odd you might not know what to make of the film. It will, however, engage you and have you coming back time and time again. The message that the lines of sex, gender and race should be blurred until they don't matter is an important one that is epically conveyed.
-Orlando Goes to Russia
-Orlando in Uzbekistan
-Jimmy Was an Angel
-Venice Film Festival Press Conference
-An Interview with Sally Potter