Orlando (UK-Russia-Italy-France-Netherlands, 1992)

Gender bent

Gender bent

Sally Potter’s celebrated 1992 is on at the BIFF next week, as is Ms Potter herself. 20 years after its first release, albeit on a poor DVD copy, the film seemed to me to somewhat dated; though why I’m struggling to fathom. Maybe it was Tilda Swinton’s/Orlando’s constant breaking of the ‘fourth wall’, a Brechtian device to ensure we are thinking about what we’re watching, was a contributory factor. If I’m sounding critical, I don’t mean to be, as the film is excellent in its feminist outlook, performances and set design.

Orlando skips through the centuries, from 1600 until now, and across genders, engaging us in Elizabeth’s court (a superbly cast Quentin Crisp above), a colonial adventure in ‘Arabia’, and – as a woman – being the butt of patronising men of literature.

The narrative might sound SF, but it’s time traveling protagonist is an obvious didactic device rather than a narrative one. By 1992, the ‘now’, Orlando has become a dynamic, and independent, mother; though still patronised (by her publisher). Maybe this is where I feel the film has dated; now (2014) feminism is as needed as much as it was in the 1980s. If we read the film’s conclusion as a triumph for Orlando, then the last 20 years can only have been a disappointment.

As usual, Tilda Swinton, is a powerful presence and Potter stretches her £2m budget brilliantly. There are some great ‘frozen Thames’ scenes, shot in Uzbekistan. Billy Zane is well cast as the paper thin character hunk who must ‘adventure’ elsewhere.

Orlando is the film that put Potter on the (near) mainstream map and allowed her to attract ‘talent’ (such as Depp) for her later films. It’s a period piece, with added time travel, and a piece from when feminism had made great strides. I think now we have gone backwards.

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One Response

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