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Orlando More at IMDbPro »

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42 out of 51 people found the following review useful:

All Excess in a Full Blown Virginia Woolf Satire

Author: semioticz from United States
26 October 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Arguably the greatest British novelist of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf, who invented "stream of consciousness" writing, composed the 1928 novel "Orlando" upon which director Sally Potter's exotic film is based.

Woolf's novel was written for & about the famous cross-dressing British heiress, poet, gardener, feminist, wife & mother; yet bisexual lover to many--Vita Sackville-West--who was one of Woolf's closest friends & perhaps her lover. Sackville-West's son, Nigel Nicholson, calls Woolf's novel "Orlando," "the longest love letter in the world." From Virginia to Vita. I view it as Woolf's way of saying to Vita, 'I know you. You're more than this world could ever be ready for; but, I love you for being who you are'. Instead of Woolf composing a biography, per se, she wrote a fantastical fiction. But, to any scholar of Woolf's & Sackville-West's lives (& I am one), "Orlando" is one of the best biographies ever written. Director Sally Potter does a splendid job of putting a very difficult & complex novel on film.

The narrator says of Orlando: "She's lived for 400 years & hardly aged a day; but, because this is England, everyone pretends not to notice." It's Woolf's biting satirical commentary on Victorian society, from a woman's perspective who, though owning her own publishing house & a truly great writer, was nevertheless oppressed by gender inequality. One of the giant points Woolf contends with is that Vita Sackville-West was an only child born into a 600 room castle; but, solely because she was a female, she could not inherit it. That's gender supremacism. These were two of the women historically spear-heading the way for women's equality through art & by living non-cooperatively with it.

The time span of the life of Orlando (Tilda Swinton) is from the 16th to the 20th century. Orlando starts out as a man to whom Queen Elizabeth I (the ever so queenly, Quentin Crisp) promises her estate as long as 'he' (Orlando-Swinton) never ages. Waking up in a changed sex in the 18th century, 'she' (Orlando-Swinton) learns that women are underprivileged. Especially when Orlando looses her property, since women were not allowed to own any. Woolf's dialog on this biographical point was the most painful of Sackville-West's life; Woolf makes it the height of her scathing satire:

First Official {speaking at Orlando the woman}: One, you are legally dead & therefore cannot hold any property whatsoever. Orlando: Ah. Fine. {stoically} First Official: Two, you are now a female. Second Official: Which amounts to much the same thing. {as being dead!}

Woolf & Sackville-West were of similar minds about gender inequality--outraged. Woolf rebels against it as Sackville-West did in real life by portraying Orlando as outraged, transgender & bisexual. Both feminist writers were profoundly critical of Victorian society's various forms of supremacism. So Woolf's characters bring that out; for example, through this single line uttered by the The Kahn (Lothaire Bluteau): "It has been said to me that the English make a habit of collecting... countries." (Wham, a direct hit upon British imperialism, Woolf style--a razor sharp, compact, one-liner that is also tongue-in-cheek amusing. Woolf was the shrewdest of 20th century British writers who used satire to express truths that make people able to grin & bear it. Woolf didn't want to be viewed as a mere street protester, in-your-face obnoxious & annoying. She was very much like France's 18th century philosopher, Voltaire (read his "Candid," to understand what I mean).

This was a word-smith with one of the most amazingly refined gifts for language & self-expression. That Woolf could provide satirical critiques of her own culture was quite rare. That she published hundreds of them is nothing short of genius not just as a writer but also as a business woman.

Back to the film: a famous solo performer, Jimmy Somerville (who plays an angel singing in falsetto, sounding like a castri, in the 16th & 18th centuries) used to be a singer for Bronski Beat & the Communards in the 1980's. Sally Potter, aside from directing, also did the vocals for the musical score that she co-wrote. The music is fascinating, exotic & indescribable. What an original CD!

Potter's movie grasps the key points of Woolf's novel by being filled with sexually dubious characters & relationships. For instance, Quentin Crisp plays a marvelous Queen; Charlotte Valandrey plays Princess Sasha, a young woman who dresses as a man; Lothaire Bluteau as The Khan has a friendship with Orlando that is highly suggestive of gay flirtations between 2 men. Jimmy Sommerville's voice is the epitome of queerness & dressed as an angel couldn't be more fey if he tried! Considering how Sackville-West played with sexuality & gender, plus, how Woolf was one of the few people who ever understood what she was doing, it is amazing that Potter was astute enough to not only comprehend both women, Potter also interpreted Sackville-West through Woolf onto the screen.

Since I'd critiqued Woolf's "Orlando" text in college, when the movie came out in the summer of 1993, I found it so true to Woolf's quick witted tones of political satire that I couldn't stop myself from cracking up with laughter out loud in the theater. If a movie goer doesn't know the true story of both the biographer's & the subject's lives, they won't get the scathing political points Woolf's made. Genius as they are!

Woolf & Shakespeare have great skills in common that come out through their vast libraries they left to us. That's another story.

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50 out of 68 people found the following review useful:

A feast for the jaded filmgoer.

Author: George Parker from Orange County, CA USA
2 February 2001

"Orlando" is a curiously ravishing series of essays built around an the title character's travel through four centuries and two genders. The film's critical acclaim and awards in contrast with the luke warm IMDB user rating is testimony to the esoterics and queer plot of the film. "Orlando's" artful and elegant presentation features a wonderful performance by Swinton, sumptuous costuming, lush locations, and a screenplay rich in comedic overtones and serious undercurrents. Not for everyone but a wonderful film for the jaded.

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25 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

Unique,one of-a-kind fantasy,maybe a touch frustrating but fascinating nonetheless

Author: DrLenera
15 March 2004

Orlando is a true original,and for that reason alone it deserves praise. It is sometimes irritating,partly because it refuses to answer so many questions it poses- for instance does Orlando actually travel forward in time in some scenes,or is it just time passing? Why does one other character,the Archduke Harry,also seem to live for ages? Some of the film's touches,such as Orlando's addresses to camera,do come across as a little pretentious. Even considering the short running time,the pace is at times extremely slow,but that is not always a bad thing. Those in search of an original film experience which provides plenty to talk about after could do far worse,and the film actually becomes more rewarding the more one sees it,because you can put up with the flaws and concentrate on the many remarkable things about this film.

The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at,so many shots look like they could be great paintings. The film has a unique atmosphere,as it passes through the centuries,it creates a highly stylized,almost fairytale-like view of the past-this is especially successful in the early Elizabethan scenes set around snow. Here there is a terrific sense of a world that may have existed only in Orlando's distant memory,although it must be said the low budget does often show. There is plenty of humor that becomes funnier with repeated viewings-how about the overwrought Victorian melodrama of the meeting between Orlando and Billy Zane's character? The film is also quite erotic in a subtle way that is hard to explain,but it's there.

And of course there is the unique Tilda Swinton-she may have become a star recently with The Chronicles of Narnia,but this is her defining role. No other film has used best her striking appearance,and her casual reaction to the things that happen to her,such as going to sleep as a man and waking up as a woman,provides some of the film's best moments.Of the other performances,Quentin Crisp is unforgettable in the early scenes as a really decrepit Queen Elizabeth,although Billy Zane,as usual,is somewhat wooden.

Virgnia Woolf's novel probably seems completely unfilmable to most people after they have read it,but this film does a great job of simplifying it and yet still retaining the essence. Whether you consider the film {as the novel is}a feminist tract,or just a very strange fantasy,it can be extremely rewarding if you have the patience for something that is at times as offbeat as they come. I should add here that this is now probably one of my favourite films,but I certainly didn't feel like that about it when I first saw it many years ago.

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23 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

A stunning commentary on life and the sexes

Author: HuLUvU from London, England
1 August 2004

Simply put one of the best movies I have ever seen. The cast is amazing and deliver in their performances, the stunning visuals and beautiful music combine to create a dreamy atmosphere through which S. Potter uses Orlando as a medium to make subtle and elegant commentaries about life, the human condition and the struggle of the sexes to understand each other when they are basically two aspects of the same coin. As opposed to some of the other reviewers here I did not find the movie slow or boring at any time. Nor is it just about Orlando; there are multiple layers. It flows simply and quietly but with great intensity and an underlying irony at every moment. This film must be Potter's masterpiece.

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25 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

Instinct says, Oh Yes!

Author: DreamingMe from United States
27 May 2006

I have been watching films for well over thirty years, but this one in particular has remained my favorite since its release for the simple reason that it consistently makes me weep with joy. Joy being so hard to come by, and a commodity rarely associated with any sort of entertainment medium, I don't need any other reason to love "Orlando." It's clever, charming, thought-provoking, at times achingly ironic, and lavishly beautiful. I have to say also that I love seeing and hearing dear Jimmy Sommerville whom we miss so much. While I tend to be hyper-critical of all films, with "Orlando" I just listen to my gut and it says, "this is perfection."

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23 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

Tilda Swinton's best performance

Author: stevendemaio from United States
25 February 2008

Swinton is certainly worth seeing in her Academy Award-winning performance in Michael Clayton (2007), but plenty of actresses could have pulled that one off. Too bad that's the film that will bring this excellent artist to a wide audience.

If you want to enjoy Swinton in a role for which she truly deserved a golden statuette, see Orlando. The film showcases Swinton's versatility, and there's hardly another actress out there who could have done a better job. Obviously, if you're a Virginia Woolf fan, that's a bonus.

This is one of 20 or so movies I've ever seen that gets better each time I watch it. Approach this movie with an open mind, and it's sure to become one of your favorites.

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23 out of 37 people found the following review useful:


Author: Tim Cox from Marietta, OH
10 September 1999

Stunning picture based on the Virginia Woolf novel about an immortal youth who sees the world from both sexes through the course of four centuries of change. Elegant in all areas especially in the costume design, which is handled by Academy Award winner Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love) and decadent design of the whole production. In the title role, Tilda Swinton is strikingly beautiful and brings energy and passion to the character in every scene. Although in a small role, this is Zane's best screen work as Sheimeidine, the "pursuer of liberty." Other stand out performances include Valandrey as a luminous woman whom Orlando adores and Crisp, exceptional early on in the film as Queen Elizabeth I.

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28 out of 47 people found the following review useful:


Author: tritisan from Mill Valley, CA
16 April 1999

This is one of those rare films that really captures magic. After watching it, I feel as though a fairy has enchanted the air around me. Maybe it's Tilda Swanton's fathomless, eyes. She stares at us so enigmatically, as if she can see through the camera, into our souls.

I could also go on about the sumptuous costumes and set design, but I'd say the subtle humor pervading the film was even more compelling and delightful. It assumes an intelligent audience, but does not come across as superior. The end of the film leaves me with a sense of hope for the future.

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11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Thoroughly Engaging, Fun, and Visually Compelling.

Author: Melissa from Seattle, Washington
31 January 1999

Tilda Swinton was born for this role. She IS Orlando. But that preoccupation aside, the first striking aspect of this film is the costumes! It opens on a scene with Orlando in Elizabethan finery, and moves through several historical periods, not least of them 18th Century literary England. That's something to see. The film is, as you would expect, very literary. You don't need to have read the book, but a working knowledge of typical euro-centric history and literature is helpful, I guess. Quentin Crisp plays a perfect Queen Elizabeth, the grotesque Institution herself, opposite Swinton's birdish Orlando. The photography is clear and even luminous at times, and the story moves along quite well--I consistently wondered what would happen. The exploration of gender, while it was obviously "the point", was not overdone, in the last analysis. Our freakish Orlando turns out to be quite human, which is a relief. The film is very well done; Swinton is a rare bird, never boring, and not to be missed.

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19 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

great sensitivity...

Author: ifasmilecanhelp from Geneva, Switzerland
4 December 2008

Absolutely superb movie...

just saw it right before writing this...

remember having seen the clip on YT,

and it gave me the feeling I should enjoy it :

I definitively did !

As say others comments, mesmerizing, mysterious, delicate...

and very profound even though quiet hidden at the beginning...

It reveals this aspect, like all the movie, like a woman in love,

slowly, enigmatically, words after words, with great sensitivity...

And Tilda Swinton, wow ! what an actress !

Plus she's beautiful ! I didn't see any movie with her before,

but for sure gonna see some more...

Not at all a usual Jimmy Somerville fan, I just love his part too ;

and last song leaves you full of hope in our humanity.

Music, cinematography, set design and costuming are absolutely exquisite and stunning.

But unfortunately guess this exceptional movie is not for everyone's taste..

In one sentence, Sally Potter made a movie that you won't forget !

Her film eventually expresses what Orson Welles wrote with so much accuracy :

"a film is never really good unless the camera is an eyes in the head of a poet"

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