Breathtaking and practically nondiscursive, Sally Potter's audacious Orlando overcomes some dodgy performances and a narrative structure that could most generously be described as "loose" to emerge as a haunting, discus... more »sion-provoking trans-historical and transsexual drama. Commanded never to age by Queen Elizabeth (played with surprisingly little camp by legendary cross-dresser Quentin Crisp), the title character becomes immortal; we then follow Orlando through 400 years of dreamlike British history. Midway through the film, Orlando changes genders--to Potter's immense credit, the transformation is handled with little fanfare and no explanation. Tilda Swinton, in the lead role, is far more convincing as a woman than as a man, and even during the film's latter half, her impassivity and lack of expression can be annoying. Potter encourages Swinton to play to the camera, and the resulting asides and glances askance can be amusing, but often seem purposeless, or even arch. Nevertheless, the willful idiosyncrasy and understatement of the film never quite capsize the project, and once you give yourself over to the filmmaker's logic, the panoramic sweep of the cinematography (remarkable sets include an aristocratic skating party on the frozen Thames during the Great London Frost of 1603, a stunning tent-caravan in Central Asia, and countless fastidious boudoirs and interiors) will surely keep you enraptured. Orlando is no Merchant-Ivory production, no prissy, forgettable period piece; this film has teeth, and it may bite ferociously when you least expect it to. Based on, but scarcely resembling, the Virginia Woolf modernist classic of the same name. --Miles Bethany« less
"This is an amazing, ironic film, based upon Virginia Woolf's whimsically mock-serious epic about an immortal English lord, who experiences 400 years of history, changes his sex to that of a woman after refusing to participate in warfare (a feminist point that is subtly made), and never bores or condescends to us. What surprised me when I first saw it is how dry, boring and pompous it isn't; the film has a nice lightness and dry humor that make it digestible. The photography is beautiful and the film never drags, and the performances, which a lot of critics have suggested are somewhat two-dimensional, are that way for a reason: Orlando's adventure is too awesome to be rendered realistically; the people and adventures she experiences are meant, I think, to be represented symbolically---each character is actually a rough composite of perhaps hundreds of such types she meets in her journey from 1600 to 2000. Billy Zane, who is seen in the movie's poster, plays an American adventurer who romances the female Orlando, but to all of his "Titanic" fans, a word of caution: he's in the film for roughly twenty-five minutes, if that much. The real star of the show is the ethereally lovely, brilliant, and mysterious Tilda Swinton, whose male Orlando is unnervingly convincing; so much so that "he" almost seems to be doing a drag bit once the sex change happens---and because Swinton is so eye-pleasing and delightful, this is not a bad thing. Her intelligence and talent radiate from her face, which is so expressive that many shots consist simply of gigantic closeups of it---she can say more with a gaze than many lesser performers do with a page of dialogue. I first saw this film in 1993, as an exchange student living in London, and it gave me an appreciation for British history and for Woolf's books that I had never had before. It's really quite a smart, funny, cool, hip movie, but with no explosions, car chases, or hot-button themes, it's by no means a populist-type entertainment. If you like period films, or anything English, you'll dig this a lot: Orlando isn't just English, he/she *is* England, and the country should be so lucky as to be compared with Tilda Swinton's long-suffering (centuries of it, in fact, what a burden) poetry-spouting nobleman/woman. Very cool."
Beautiful. Strange, but beautiful
wiredweird | Earth, or somewhere nearby | 12/12/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The movie starts with Tilda Swinton playing Orlando, a male role (so far), and Quentin Crisp playing Queen Elizabeth. Already, physical sex and social gender have been neatly divided. Later on, Orlando abruptly transforms from man to woman with no reason or mechanism given. S/he takes it in stride, but her place in her social world changes around her. Given the magical premise, it's an effective way to comment on the attitudes of men and women towards each other, based on complete and mutual ignorance.
There was only one small problem with the casting. Swinton is just too lovely a woman to play even an androgynous male convincingly. It took some effort to go along with Tilda the man, but it was worth it for the sake of the plot.
And, if nothing else, I could always watch the incredible costuming and scenery. Architecture and landscaping seemed to have quiet lives of their own, tolerating the people that moved among them. Many scenes were chosen for strong, almost confrontational symmetries, something that definitely attracted my attention. Another scene near the end actually costumed the landscape, Christo-like, for reasons I never worked out. There were a number of night scenes, too, and many seemed to be filmed using natural light. Those scenes often had a grainy look, but not enough to be distracting.
This is an odd movie, but I like it. Swinton's little asides to the camera, sometimes just a glance, added a quirky note. It's a thoughtful movie, about tone and appearance rather than action, and delivers well in those areas. However much I like it, though, I come away a bit unsure what to make of it. Maybe that's why I keep coming back to it.
A charming farce of androgynous exploration....
raspberry-swirl | Australia | 12/17/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First let it be said that while I love the film Orlando it is simply impossible to get all the themes and events of the novel into one movie, so I strongly urge all viewers, whether they loved or hated this movie, to read the book, Virginia Woolf's unique love letter to Vita Sackville-West.The inevitable failings involved in translating a book into a film aside, 'Orlando' is visually exsquisite, the costumes and locations sumptuous and splendid, fully evoking the decadance and contrasting squalor of the centuries in which Orlando lives his/her life. The score perfectly compliments the surroundings, the atmosphere and the themes of each scene, and is beautifully composed and performed.Though some have expressed doubts over Tilda Swinton's ability to play Orlando, the aristocrat born as man who turns into a woman half way through his/her life, I thought she was the perfect choice. I believe knowing she is a woman initially taints people's ability to find her convincing as a man; to me she played the part with great charm, amiability and empathy, and became even more charming as a woman - the character of Orlando at this stage in 'her' life becoming more rounded, more sympathetic, more knowledgable and Swinton captures that well. This film does not follow the 'rules' of the 'real' world - besides changing genders, Orlando lives for 400 years and does not age a day. It is the story of a pursuit for life, for meaning, by one individual determined to discover what that means. Accept it, and enjoy.In its attempt to capture the most important of the book's events the film does have a slight recurring bump in continuity, it seems, and will no doubt be pretentious and boring to some, if not many. Nonetheless, Orlando is a sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting movie, thought provoking and richly realised."
"I have watched this film three times - yet each time I have watched it I have been intrigued by it - one of the rare films to explore the COMMON rather than the differences between men and women. There is a lushness and "an eternity" to the film - Ms. Potter did an excellent job from the site locations to the music. The landscapes varied from the bitter cold, to desert heat, to World War I, to foggy English countryside to modern day London - these enhanced the feeling that the essence of men and women are the same - not only now but in the past. I have a feeling that people will either love or hate this film. If you are looking for direct action this is not the film for you. However, if you are looking for a more dreamy, meditative film that is memorable than you should definitely check this one."
Even better than the real thing...
Steven Cain | Temporal Quantum Pocket | 08/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sally Potter is one of the few directors to achieve the near impossible - to create a movie that actually surpasses the original novel.Not wishing to take anything away from Virginia Woolf, whose The Waves is one of the most brilliant and defining novels of all time, Potter's film version is nothing less than a work of art.As other reviewers have indicated, when the Orlando character, who was based on Woolf's friend and lover, Victoria (Vita) Sackville-West, crosses gender to become a woman, she automatically loses the right to own the very same property that, as a man, she/he had owned for eons. Even as a socio-political commentary, (see also Woolf's A Room Of One's Own) this speaks volumes about a patriarchal society in which the lowliest, most moronic male had infinitely more rights than the most brilliant and gifted female.Our society is still dealing with the legacy of the tyranny of gender and the legacy of the Inquisition, in which nine million women were murdered for being women.Yet despite the dark insanities that underly the film's pivotal transition, Potter's modern classic is a rich and joyful romp, filled with love, hope and transcendence, with a simply breathtakingly beautiful closing section.A rare and inspired work of genius, in which the production direction and casting cannot be faulted."