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In A Talking Picture, 96-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de
Oliveira takes us on a journey through history, making us acutely aware
of our heritage and, in the process, conveying an acute sense of what
we have lost and what we have become. Part travelogue, part comedy, and
part drama, the film lulls us into a state of blissful contentment,
then hits us with a wake up call that seems culled from yesterday's
headlines. On the surface, Oliveira's 36th film is simple, but its
greatness lies in the subtlety of its undercurrents. As we travel on a
cruise ship to visit some of the most historic landmarks on the planet,
bathe in the warmth of the Mediterranean sun, and meet some interesting
people along the way, Oliveira brings into sharp focus the treacherous
nature of the journey in which we are embarked.
Set in July 2001, an attractive history professor from the University of Lisbon, Rosa Maria (Leonor Silveira), takes her seven-year-old daughter Maria Joana (Filipa de Almeida) on a cruise of the Mediterranean from Portugal to Bombay, India where she is planning to meet her husband, an airline pilot. The ship travels from west to east, symbolically depicting the direction in which the balance of the world is shifting. Along the way, they visit the Acropolis and the Parthenon, Mt. Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii, the Sphinx and the Pyramids, and the Hagia Sophia, among others. Rosa Maria, who has lectured about the sites but never visited them before, explains the various sites to her attentive and inquisitive daughter who is constantly asking questions.
The little girl asks questions such as "What is a myth?", "Was there really such a Goddess?", "What is a legend?", "What did people do here?". Her mother does her best to interpret history and myth for her daughter telling her stories about Prince Henry and the legendary Portuguese King Sebastian, the mermaids who swam alongside ships to encourage the sailors to explore the unknown, and the muse that inspired poets. She tells her about the Temple of Apollo and the statue of Athena that protected the city and the stories that accompanied the destruction of Pompeii. Like Maria Joana we are mesmerized by what we see, yet each scene is tinged with such a pervasive air of sadness that it seems to suggest we are getting one last look.
The only transition from port to port is the often-repeated view of the prow of the ship slicing through the calm waters. Along the way, the two meet solitary travelers: an old fisherman in Marseilles whose wife died and whose children moved away, a celibate Orthodox priest at the Acropolis, and an older unmarried actor in Egypt. Rosa and her daughter are the only family with children seen in the film. The second part of the film consists mainly of a dinner conversation between the ship's captain John Walesa (John Malkovich), an American of Polish background and three celebrity passengers: Delphine, a French businesswoman (Catherine Deneuve), Francesca, a former Italian model (Stefania Sandrelli) and Helena, a Greek singer (Irene Papas). In "My Dinner With John", the women discuss their personal lives as well as their views on history, art, politics, and civilization and we are treated to a lovely Greek song sung by Irene Papas.
Each talk in his or her own language yet everyone seems to understand each other perfectly. Soon the suave captain invites the professor and her daughter to join the dinner group and gives the little girl a gift of a Muslim doll with a veil over her face, making us aware of who has not been invited to the table. From here, the film veers in an unpredictable direction that seems inevitable only upon repeated viewing. The camera is static throughout and since the film is driven by ideas rather than story line or character development, the journey at times can be a bit tiresome. Yet A Talking Picture is a lovely film filled with moments of beauty and grace. Like the passage of our own life, it is the totality of the experience that is important, an experience that can only be reflected upon from a distance and weighed in the context of the events that are transforming the civilization and culture we once thought would never change.
I saw this film at the Hong Kong International Film Festival 2004 and
enjoyed it. There I've said it, only the second person to post a positive
review for this film. Allow me to explain....
I don't consider this film to be boring, unless you are trying to compare it to the latest digitally blurred, DTS surround, multi million dollar blockbuster. You are missing the point of this film. It's about reality! When you next come out of the cinema or leave the TV with it's DVD surround system, having gorged on Hollywoods finest, go outside, get on a bus/train/plane. Take a seat and really observe those people around you. Then remember the characters in this film and you will notice that, lo and behold, parents do speak to their children in the way that Leonor Silveira speaks to her daughter. And that her daughter, played by Filipa de Almeida, saying over and over "Why is that.....?" is a true reflection of real life.
The interruptions to the history lessons of the mother, by the Greek Orthodox priest and the Portugese actor are also totally plausible and well observed by both actors and director together. As a 10 year old on a family holiday to historic Italy, having the same history lessons as shown in the film, I too bumped into a british actor/entertainer. He was on holiday with his wife in Rome, when my father asked him if he was in fact an actor. He said that he was, politely introduced his wife and shook hands with myself and my sisters, leaving us gobsmacked to have met a 'real' star.
As for the performances of the euro-stars in this film, again I say look at real life. I live in Hong Kong where 7 million of the population speak cantonese as their first language. In work and social situations both the chinese and westerners hold multi-lingual conversations. And I have been in situations in France and elsewhere in europe, when converstaions take place in more than one language. And yes, they are 'disjointed', but they do exist and occur a lot more often than people think.
Finally, the film itself. It is easy to watch and enjoy. The progress may seem a little 'regimental', but after all a day consists of a sunrise and a sunset. So for this film to punctuate each destination with a boat departure and the bow of the ship plowing the waves, does move things along. The ending was a bit short and sharp, but still reflected the style of the rest of the film in its realism. No long drawn out scenes of pandemonium or touching 'overacted' farewells.
So Hollywood please take note of this film, it may not pay big money, it may not get the sensive receptors buzzing. But, it shows realism, a flare for observation, and some boring bit's. Real life is like that, sorry if that is a shock to any celluloid junkies out there.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is clear that a Manoel De Oliveira film is not for everyone, not
that he has ever tried. The cinema of this director is introspective,
as it doesn't aim to please the masses. "Um Filme Falado", his 2003
satisfying movie, is perhaps one of his most accessible.
When we first meet Rosa Maria, a university professor, who is embarking on a long trip to Bombay to join her husband for a vacation, we watch her on board with her daughter, Maria Joana, a beautiful child with an inquisitive mind. As the ship goes to the open sea, Rosa Maria is heard explaining to the girl the meaning of the monuments in Lisbon they are passing by.
The next ports of call include Marseilles, Naples, Athens, Istambul, Cairo and Aden. In every place the ship stops Rosa Maria and Maria Joana take side trips to see the interesting sites that although touristy, they hold a special significance and serve to advance the story. After all, Rosa Maria being a teacher knows well what she is talking about. In each destination they encounter a kind person, like the Orthodox priest in the Parthenon, or the Portuguese actor by the Piramids.
We also see in some of the ports of call a famous woman boarding the ship, but they don't appear until the last segment of the picture, when the captain, John Walesa, invites Rosa Maria and her daughter to join him at his table where Delphine, Francesca, and Helena, are sitting. Each woman talks in her native language, and yet, they all seem to understand what each one is saying. This serene moment doesn't prepare us for the surprise we are about to receive. Since we have no idea about what is coming, we remain in a state of shock because of the suddenness in how things happen. In a way, the film parallel life, as it is difficult to understand why things happen they way they do. Also, the fragility of life itself is examined by Mr. De Oliveira in his own peculiar way.
The director has given us no inkling up to the last moment of the film that anything could be so totally wrong. The whole film has such a soothing quality and a peaceful beauty that when the unexpected happens we are caught completely unaware of it.
Leonor Silveira has worked with Manoel De Oliveira extensively. She has such a regal presence in everything she does and her beauty is the no nonsense kind. Her Rosa Maria is perfect. John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve have also worked with the director before, but this is not their film, they just happen to be there at the end. Stefania Sandrelli and Irene Papas are also featured in the film. Ms. Papas makes a wonderful impression as she sings to the delight of all the passengers and the viewers.
"Um Filme Falado" shows a Manoel De Oliveira at his best. He has produced a gorgeous film that requires our undivided attention.
This movie isn't going to shock you. This movie is not going to "entertain" you. This movie is going to softly talk to you, while cruising around the most beautiful places of the world, and will bring you to a sudden, explosive, unexpected ending. I never saw a De Oliveira movie before this, although he is considered by Italian critics one of the most important directors alive. Well i guess i should check his previous works (and there's a lot to see). This is a film for those who want to FEEL the script and listen to interesting conversations that sometimes can enlighten and other times, well, the viewer can feel the deep depression of a reality that gives us no choice but live as we are, no hope to leave our little selves to come to something bigger. And then again, who wouldn't want to sit and have dinner talking with Stefania Sandrelli, Catherine Deneuve, Irene Papas and a charming Captain Malkovich? (And the fact that they're all speaking in their own languages makes their pout pourri of philosophy and humour really UNIVERSAL). This filmed talked to me, while i could do nothing but sit still and wait and listen and watch and then give one of the most sincere applauses i ever could give to a movie. "You'd better grab a hold of something, it's simple but is true. If you dont stop to smell the roses now they might end up on you!" (HUSKER DU)
I guess everyone has a right to his/her own opinion, and so the
commentator(sp?) above. This is not an action movie, not based on any
real underlaying "physical" story. But i liked it because it's kind of
motionless, but has a sense of meaning to it - like you'll kind of
know, there's someone intelligent behind it, and it's not necessarily
driving an agenda down your throat. It's like spending time with a good
friend (or wife, if you have the one your supposed to have), when you
don't really have to do or say anything. This movie is something like
(Liking or disliking this does not say anything about your intelligence; you like it or not, and that's the end of it. I enjoyed it.)
I highly recommend this movie for anyone with an open mind and
patience. My own enjoyment of it was further enhanced by my love of
languages, zeal for seeking subtext, and boredom with conventional film
clichés. If you're like me in this respect, I think you'll enjoy this
film. If you're looking for a thrill ride or expect one of the standard
narrative forms, you will not.
The film behaves like the sea it frequently depicts. Lilting, undulating, splashing, and crashing randomly on its poetically simple story line: a Portuguese woman and her daughter set out on a cruise to meet their husband/father in Bombay. Along the way, they stop in various cities and have conversations about the history of the places they're visiting.
At first viewing, the films seems like a mixture of luxuriously long shots of ships and waves, stilted conversations between wooden actors, random scenes with strange editing, and almost no musical score. But the more I think about the film, the more the subtle meanings haunt me. The film was not an "upper", but I can't help smiling when I think about it.
I think the point was this: Through its academic recitation of history, a mother's explanations to her child, and an unsettling dose of present day reality, this movie contextualizes life in a way no other film I know of does. Good and Evil brought full circle? The grand flaw of humanity laid bare? An excercise in audience-manipulation? Whichever: Very rewarding.
Great movie. It was absolutely delightful to see some of the most important places in our history and to listen to such great explanations. I specially liked when the little girl asked her mother for the meaning of some words that, even though we use a lot in every day conversation, almost no one knows its precise meaning. I understand the ending is a clear political (or civil) message to the audience, and i give de oliveira credit for being so brave, but i think he might have over-simplified the issue of terrorism. A word to the argentine film student who wrote that this movie was worthless: please drop out of school.
This is another Great film of 97year old Portuguese director Manoel De
Oliveira (a legend!). It's incredible how this director still creative
is... His stories are simple and deep. He demonstrates that with a low
budget you can always do strong films, with good lines.
A mother takes her daughter to a cruise trip through Mediterranean Sea. She teaches her story and gets in touch with three European women and the ship's captain. Everyone speaks his own language... That's why it's a "Talking picture", a meeting among people of several cultures. The dialogue follow the everyday life. The film seems to be very calm and seems to tell simply a friendship story, until the final scene... Where we remain totally surprised.
A small, cultivated and poetic picture, from an European big director.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
De Oliveira belongs to a shrinking number of living filmmakers
identifiable from a brief sequence, a few frames, of any film. I'm not
sure who the others are, though certainly Rohmer, maybe the newer
Kurosawa, and probably Kiarostami if he didn't have so many imitators,
his own children among them.
The precisely titled A Talking Picture begins as Rosa and her daughter, Maria Joana, stand at the rail of a Mediterranean liner about to depart. Just as wavers ashore, who for distance seem frozen in motion to this goodbye ritual, begin to slip away, Rosa and Joana's fellow passengers walk around them backwards to the ship's motion, trying to hold sight of their well-wishers for as long as possible. No one looks at the mother and daughter. Mother and daughter don't move. Like stones paired in a stream, they break yet don't halt the flow. Calmly, with a smile, continuing to preen Joana's long hair Rosa continues her dialog. We know the dialog hasn't just begun, because Joana's questions are so acute, because she's so clearly her mother's daughter. But in another sense, things do start right here. Mother and daughter have a past, yet the artifice does not: the film is circular. To De Oliveira's naysayers, I suggest watch at least these opening minutes immediately after the film's final frames. If you can bear it, re-watch every line and image of Rosa's long instruction knowing what will happen.
I'm afraid it's all too fresh in mind to trust myself to offer much more beyond random thoughts. Though I read only three of the four languages (no Greek), I caught on immediately that each at the Captain's table spoke her own language. Aside from Malkovich, who mixes French and English when speaking to Deneuve, they, if I didn't miss, don't even inject common Anglicisms. The effect was so intriguing I'm grateful De Oliveira left me time to think Babel before Malkovich cued it. The symbolism in Joana's Arab doll may seem too heavy, but at the same time it encompassed the sometime tragedy of chance. Rosa's top of the head example of a doll taken away, with which she explains war to Joana, may have been what sent Joana back. Just the mention of a doll, I mean: not that Joana ran back because of anything to do with war.
There's no such thing as an objective definition of war. Rosa's needs examination, against the rest of the film and against actuality. If hers is also De Oliveira's definition, then all the more so. But I'm not going to try to do it here. I'm not even going to try to decide whether the film or De Oliveira equate war with terrorism.
Like every De Oliveira film, A Talking Picture is quietly musical. What I mean is even with the sound turned off, or with Papas and the instrumentals removed: the edits are musical. "Listen" to the hard beat of the ship's bow punctuating the flow. Appreciate the asymmetrical rhythm that shunts Malkovich and ladies mostly to the film's final third. Who is chorus and who verse, Rosa or Joana?
Two silly De Oliveira anecdotes:
A screening at my local film festival of another misunderstood De Oliveira film -- I think it may have been The Letter -- set what may be a festival record for loud running battles in the audience: "Stop kicking my seat back!" "I'm not!" "You are so!" At least four separate disputes ran on and on in different corners of the medium-sized screening room. Why that film? Why De Oliveira? I've no idea. But as I was on my way out, one of the ever-present festival matrons revealed to me that she hadn't gotten the film at all. The quietly inane dialog, from one character, though I'd known it immediately for hilarious dead-on satire, she'd attributed to the nearly ninety-year-old De Oliveira's finally losing touch. She actually used the word "senile."
Don't know if it was the same year, but the one in which the same festival gave De Oliveira a lifetime achievement award, unlike most visiting directors he attended as many other directors' films as he could manage in his few days at the festival. Seemed like every film I attended, there he was. Once I looked round and discovered him right behind me. Instead of sitting up rigid as many people that age seem to for fear of displacing a vertebra, he slouched down like a teenager, legs sprawled into the aisle, clearly absorbed by whatever was showing.
contrary to many of the reviews. I especially agree with the reviewer
from Hong Kong, who stated that this is indeed, similar to real life,
and he is in a multi-cultural city, where many languages are spoken.
Although I am from the U.S., I have traveled, and have experienced similar situations wherein people are acquainted. I guess one of the problems is that in the U.S., unless you are in one of the coastal cities, you are not familiar with multi-culturalism. This is sad, because I feel that Hollywood caters to the lowest common denominator in America (In Paris, for example, I do not think they would market "The Dukes of Hazzard"). I for one am tired of films which cater to the 12-17 year old demographic, or just the generally ignorant masses.
John Malkovich is interesting, and Leonor Silveira portrays a professor, traveling with her daughter. The cruise departs from Lisbon and is to arrive in Bombay, sometime later. We see some exquisitely filmed scenery, Apollo, Pompeii, Cairo.
Malkovich is the ship's captain, and has guests of honor at his table including the lovely Catherine Deneuve, Stefania Sandrelli, and Irene Pappas. Each woman represents a different culture, and they exchange ideas and ideologies with Malkovich. This is a very interesting and realistic portrayal of people's varying impressions. They discuss Greece, the origins of language, and religious ideology.
At one point Malkovich invites the professor, Silveira, and her daughter(Filipa de Almeida) to join his group at the table. He also purchases a doll at one of the ports of call, in Morocco, I believe, and there is a parallel story of countries, politics, and possessions, for which the doll is a metaphor.
You will see at the end of the film the significance of the doll, and the allegory it represents. Quite a good story, and a relief from the usual American movies we are bombarded with.
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