A TALKING PICTURE (UM FILME FALADO) (director/writer: Manoel de Oliveira; cinematographer: Emmanuel Machuel; editor: Valerie Loiseleux; cast: Leonor Silveira (Rosa Maria), John Malkovich (Comandante John Walesa), Catherine Deneuve (Delphine), Stefania Sandrelli (Francesca), Irene Papas (Helena), Luís Miguel Cintra (Luís Miguel Cintra), David Cardoso (Pescador), Elias Logothetis (Padre Ortodoxo), Filipa de Almeida (Maria Joana); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paulo Branco; Kino Video; 2003-Portugal-in Portuguese/French/Italian/Greek and with English subtitles)
It’s an engrossing pic that speaks to our hearts and minds, as it leaves us with an unsettling feeling about both the past and present.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Nonagenarian Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira (“I’m Going Home”/”Word and Utopia”/”Voyage to the Beginning of the World”)directs this gem. It’s a talky travelogue that builds as a cautionary fable linking modern times with ancient history, and leads to an unexpected startling fiery conclusion.

It follows in July of 2001 (thereby becoming Oliveira’s answer to 9/11), as an engaging history professor Rosa Maria (Leonor Silveira), from Lisbon, takes a cruise on a luxury liner around Europe and the Near East with her eight-year-old curious daughter (Filipa de Almeida) to hookup in Bombay with her airline pilot husband. The visits to Western landmarks include those in Lisbon of a memorial that relates to us the mythic legend about King Sebastian, in Marseilles we learn from a fisherman that the great city was founded by the Greeks, in Pompeii we view its famous volcano, in Athens we learn much about the Acropolis, in Istanbul we learn about the history of the Hagia Sophia, in Egypt we view the mysterious Pyramids, and in the Red Sea port of Aden we visit its quaint ancient marketplace. On each stopover we’re given a tour guide’s history lesson of how mankind struggled to become civilized, as mother lectures her uninformed child and the child responds with questions like: What is a myth? Several strangers who pass by, add their voice to the history lesson.

The leisurely pace of the film and the beautiful scenery, made this pic as relaxing as going on a wonderful vacation by an ocean liner without getting sea sick. But the ride gets bumpy in the third part of the film, which switches moods, as we listen in on the multilingual captain’s-table conversation between the sophisticated flattery-minded American captain (John Malkovich) and three renown international beauties and celebrities–from Greece an actress (Irene Papas), from Italy a supermodel (Stefania Sandrelli) and from France a successful businesswoman (Catherine Deneuve). The enlightened femmes and captain talk endlessly about themselves, art, language, culture and history, until they are not only reminded of the benefits but of the dangers of living in the contemporary world.

It’s an engrossing pic that speaks to our hearts and minds, as it leaves us with an unsettling feeling about both the past and present. Only a master filmmaker could so effortlessly weave together with such gracefulness such an upsetting metaphor (simultaneously tragic and absurd) for where are history has taken us.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”