Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
West Germany, 1981. Ulrike Oettinger Filmproduktion, Pia Frankenberg Filmproduktion, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen. Screenplay by Ulrike Ottinger. Cinematography by Ulrike Ottinger. Produced by Sibylle Hubatschek-Rahn. Music by Wilhelm Dieter Siebert. Production Design by Ulrike Ottinger. Costume Design by Jorge Jara. Film Editing by Dörte Völz-Mammarella.
Painter, photographer and avant-garde filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger uses Virginia Woolf’s fantasy novel as a jumping off point for this exploration of politics and sexuality in early eighties Europe.
A series of episodes feature the same cast being refigured in different roles in each chapter, with Magdalena Montezuma portraying Orlando in various guises, traveling across cultures and eras and witnessing inhumanity, oppression and political greed in such settings as the Spanish Inquisition and Elizabethan England.
Unlike Sally Potter’s far more conventional (by comparison) adaptation of the same novel, however, Ottinger’s view of these periods is always filtered through a punk lens that features no end of expressive, colourful costumes and post-apocalyptic backgrounds upon which a mostly dialogue-free exploration of movement and sound is played (Ancient Greece, in which Orlando is a cyclops, takes place in a shopping mall in “Freak City”).
Delphine Seyrig is on hand as a variety of characters and a number of sequences take cues from Tod Browning’s Freaks, but despite such an enticing description, the process of enduring this film is a difficult one.
For all that it’s set up as a collection of separate episodes, each one feels like the same time and place and aside from a general sense of the vague themes of capitalism and busting gender conventions, there’s nothing specific enough happening with the characters to engage the viewer in what is going on.