Wednesday, 3 February 2010














Sally Potter's Orlando is not a film that you approach with a desire for realism, explication or reason. You have to accept it on its own terms, the way that you have to accept its source novel: Virginia Woolf's Orlando. While it is possible to spend hours unpacking this film and its various themes, metaphors, symbolism and imagery, whenever I return to it, it is with the sense that it highlights, perhaps better than any other film, the manner in which gender is a social and cultural construction.

Simone de Beauvoir has famously said that "one is not born a woman, one becomes a woman." The film's namesake, Orlando, is born a man and becomes a woman. His transformation from masculinity to femininity is also a historical journey from Elizabethan times to the twentieth century. Not only does Orlando have the magical power to switch genders, but also to live for over 400 years. Time and space are compressed and expressed through a process of ongoing identity construction, so that by the end of the film, we realise the manner in which our own identities are shaped by our history, our culture and our society.

On a personal level, I love the distinction which is drawn between the icy bleakness of lack of personal insight, to the warm and engulfing realisation of desire and the self. I also love the openness and expansive spirit of this film, especially when you consider that so many films these days are concerned with presenting easily understood plots, rather than engaging the imagination and creativity of their viewers.


Make it Easy said...

wow i love how you talk about these films! its so interesting!

gracia said...

I have not seen this film since I first saw it at the cinema many years ago. I loved it and was puzzled by it then and I am hesitant to revisit. Looking at these captivating stills, I will have to reconsider. More than a little fond of icy bleakness and symbolism.

St├ęphanie said...

I adore this film ! The pictures are fabulous !

Sundari said...

going to oxfam bookshop this weekend then to find Orlando!

P.S. Thank you for such a lovely comment.

Deleilan said...

Thank you for writing about this film. I must see it - and read the book - very soon.

danica said...

i've not seen it, but have heard a lot about it. i am struck by tilda swinton's face in those stills - so strong and yet vulnerable.

Ann Marie said...

oh my! i must see this film SOON! thank you for the reminder.

Maria said...

yes! I really have to see this film. it looks beautiful too.

Danica Keeley said...


Rambling Tart said...

Wow, I've never seen this film, but your description and photos intrigue me.

Des said...

Excellent post. I will definitely have to see this film.

kerri said...

love love love what you have written here. x

Saoirse said...

I've never seen this film, but it looks lovely!

Jo said...

yesterday i went to see the new sally potter film, rage, at gothenburg's international film festival, and sally potter herself was there for a q&a session. she's simply brilliant. i was thinking a lot about range and orlando over the weekend, i felt you read my mind when i saw you posted about it :)

and i totally agree, i enjoy every post you make on films!

Jo said...

ps. i'd highly recommend rage, as it is exactly what you mention: a film that, from beginning to end, requires the participation and exercise of imagination from the viewers.

psaugust said...

great choice! this is one of my favorite films and the intro to SEX is my favorite part.

Hila said...

make it easy: thank you, that's so sweet!

gracia: yes, I must admit, I was rather puzzled too when I first saw it, but I now have a different perspective.

Stephanie: aren't they just?

sundari: oh it's my pleasure, I hope you're having a great time with your mum and sister!

deleilan: I hope you like both book and film :)

danica: I know, doesn't Tilda Swinton have the most interesting face? She sometimes looks transluscent.

ann marie: it's my pleasure :)

maria: it is very beautiful.

danica keeley: why thank you!

rambling tart: I hope you do see it, it's great.

Thanks Des :)

kerri: thanks thanks thanks :)

saoirse: it is indeed lovely!

jo: oh jo, lucky you! I am so jealous!! I haven't seen rage, but it's now next on my list, thank you for the recommendation :)
I hope you're keeping well xo

psaugust: it's my favourite part too :)