A meditation on civilization. July, 2001: friends wave as a cruise ship departs Lisbon for Mediterranean ports and the Indian Ocean. On board and on day trips in Marseilles, Pompeii, Athens... See full summary »
Each day, Man must work around the clock to produce and acquire bread: throwing the seeds into earth, helping the breeding of the corn, the corn's recolt, transport to the mills - ... See full summary »
Every year the Viennale invites a famous director to produce a short film as the festival trailer. In 2014 the choice has fallen on the 105-year old Manoel de Oliveira. This year's trailer ... See full summary »
José and Roberto are friends, and they decide to go hunting but without guns, so that no accident will happen. As they stroll and talk, one of them falls into a hole in a hidden marshland. ... See full summary »
Manoel de Oliveira
António Rodrigues Sousa,
João Rocha Almeida,
A meditation on civilization. July, 2001: friends wave as a cruise ship departs Lisbon for Mediterranean ports and the Indian Ocean. On board and on day trips in Marseilles, Pompeii, Athens, Istanbul, and Cairo, a professor tells her young daughter about myth, history, religion, and wars. Men approach her; she's cool, on her way to her husband in Bombay. After Cairo, for two evenings divided by a stop in Aden, the captain charms three successful, famous (and childless) women, who talk with wit and intellect, each understanding the others' native tongue, a European union. The captain asks mother and child to join them. He gives the girl a gift. Helena sings. Life can be sweet. Written by
A Talking Picture winds through the Mediterranean world at the leisurely pace of a tourist, taking in the sights, basking in the glow of civilization and its glories. Its director, Manoel de Oliveira, is not concerned with incident, with plot - he's concerned with ideas, with conversation. His movie is not called A Talking Picture for nothing; it is full of talking, some worth listening to and some not. Most of the worthwhile verbiage comes from a character named Rosa Maria (Leonor Silveira), a Portuguese history professor on a cruise with her young daughter (Filipa de Almeida). The mother-and-daughter are de Oliveira's device for presenting his ideas - the daughter asks elementary questions and the mother answers them, and through this simple back-and-forth, occasionally joined by other characters, de Oliveira creates the educational narration to go with his slide-show of the important sites of the extended Mediterranean world - Pompeii, The Acropolis, St. Sophia's, the Pyramids. Or maybe educational isn't the right word. De Oliveira doesn't seem as interested in informing us as he is in reminding us. The film doesn't take on any more of a professorial air than Rosa Maria does; Rosa Maria doesn't make lofty pronouncements and neither does the movie. The director's purpose is to share his appreciation for the myths, the legends, the monuments of Western Civilization, and he does so with the right kind of humbleness. It's only as the film reaches its climax that we begin to realize how darkened by uncertainty, even foreboding, de Oliveira's view of things is.
The film veers away from its pleasing, leisurely travelogue structure in the later passages, focusing instead on a group of rich, famous women entertaining, and being entertained by, the (presumably) charming ship's captain, played by the smug John Malkovich. It's here that some of the movie's charm falls away and it begins smelling of pompousness: the rich women all sit around chattering about themselves, making political observations, acting as mouthpieces for de Oliveira. The movie's whole sense of space becomes strangled in the ship's dining room; the expansive Mediterranean vistas are replaced by simply staged shots of Malkovich, Catherine Deneuve, Irene Papas and the Italian actress Stefania Sandrelli all sitting at the table being very witty (at least they think they are). The picture is saved in the end by Papas, whose character sings a lovely old Greek folk song, a song whose sad, simple melody seems a perfect ode to the civilization whose passing de Oliveira already seems in the process of mourning. Forces are at work to destroy the world de Oliveira loves: it's suddenly announced that the ship has a bomb on it, planted by terrorists at the last port-of-call.
The movie only becomes allegorical in the end, a sort of miniature Ship of Fools (take out the Porterian psychodrama and that's what you're left with) where the multilingual, erudite characters represent civilization and the bomb the looming specter of fundamentalism. For much of its run the film is less thematically over-bearing, less spatially shrunken. In its best moments it is barely more than a Discovery Channel documentary, a tour of the significant historic sites of the Mediterranean, but created by someone with a genuine sense of history, a love of civilization and all it stands for, and the ability to view things not politically or even morally but with the sagely eye of one who has made their peace with humanity (de Oliveira is almost a hundred after all). It's irrelevant whether A Talking Picture is good cinema or not - certainly there are better-staged movies - for what matters is not the form but the tone, the sense of embracing. The film's charms are modest but they're there, and they have nothing to do with the playing out of some dramatic story (when forced to deal with plot de Oliveira seems almost embarrassed). They have to do with loving words, loving places, loving ideas, and doing so unabashedly yet humbly.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?