Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Orlando (1992)

"You are possessed of a strange melancholy..."

He is a man, born in the 1500's and favored "adopted" son of Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Upon the eve of her death, the Queen (Quentin Crisp; The Bride, To Wong Fu...) beseeched Orlando to never fade away, to never grow old. She died. And then his father. And, betrayed by love, Orlando slept. Nothing in the world could wake him until he desired to awaken. And he was unchanged.

Tilda Swinton (Benjamin Button, Chronicles of Narnia) plays the androgynous Lord, beautiful as a man of his time. And after his 2nd sleep, a woman. Betrayed by her country, by society, and by her sex, Orlando sleeps again, and into the fog of another hundred years, and another, and another.

"And all the time she was writing, the world continued..."

The trials of centuries show upon the face of one unchanging person, insignificant, unnoticed, or pretended to be so, for, as it says, it was England, people pretended not to notice. Orlando is a story of the chains of society, convention, and duty. Never is Orlando free, or anyone, but Orlando, watching the world with the eyes of 400 years, is the only one who notices.

Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, and directed and adapted by Sally Potter, the movie is stylish, and by that I mean that it does an exquisite job of showing the period in which Orlando lives in almost brief fashion, but so complete. Nothing is lacking, unless you read the novel first. Tilda Swinton must be the image that Virginia had in her head while writing for there is no one else in existence that could have played Orlando, male or female.

"Heaven has mercifully decreed that the secrets of all hearts are hidden so that we are lured on for ever to suspect something, perhaps, that does not exist."

This is the first movie in which I recall seeing either Tilda Swinton or Billy Zane (who plays Orlando's brief lover). It was also my first experience with Virginia Woolf. Shameful, since I saw it when I was 19. Jimmy Somerville has two cameo appearances in which he sings, beautifully. John Wood (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Rasputin {HBO})cameos as well, as the Archduke Harry.

The unconventional style melds well with the historical settings and costuming, creating a feel that is unique even after more than a decade.

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