Breathtaking and practically non-discursive, 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, discussion-provoking, trans-historical and transsexual drama. Commanded never to age by Queen Elizabeth (played with surprisingly little campness by legendary cross-dresser Quentin Crisp), the title character becomes immortal; we then follow Orlando through 400 years of dream-like 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 wilful 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. Although based on the Virginia Woolf modernist classic of the same name, it scarcely resembles the original. --Miles Bethany
Australia released, PAL/Region 0 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital 2.0 ), WIDESCREEN, SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast/Crew Interview(s), Documentary, Interactive Menu, Scene Access, Trailer(s), SYNOPSIS: Independent filmmaker Sally Potter's gender-bending epic, which views four centuries of sexual politics through the eyes of a sex-switching main character, is based on the 1928 novel by Virginia Woolf. The androgynous title character is played with delicate quietude by Tilda Swinton. The story begins during the reign of the aging Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp, in a droll turn recalling his The Naked Civil Servant). Queen Elizabeth takes a shine to the attractive young Orlando and seeks out his sexual favors. In return, Elizabeth grants him a large estate, commanding him, 'Do not fade, do not wither, do not grow old.' Orlando takes the queen at her word and doesn't. When Elizabeth dies, Orlando becomes attracted to Sasha (Charlotte Valandrey), the daughter of a Russian diplomat, but she rebuffs his advances. Crushed, Orlando accepts an ambassadorship to Constantinople. After witnessing the killing of a man in battle, Orlando undergoes a change of sex, becoming a woman and returning to England, where she hobnobs with 18th-century geniuses like Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Addison. Walking through a garden labyrinth, the time frame shifts to the 19th century, and Orlando falls in love with a handsome American (Billy Zane). Now in the 20th century, Orlando gives birth to his child and continues on.
SCREENED/AWARDED AT: BAFTA Awards, Catalonian International Film Festival, European Film Awards, Oscar Academy Awards, Thessaloniki Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, ...Orlando