A Talking Picture (2003) / Drama
aka Um Filme Falado

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for thematic elements
Running Time: 93 min.

Cast: Leonor Silveira, Filipa de Almeida, John Malkovich, Catherine Deneuve, Irene Papas, Stefania Sandrelli, Luis Miguel Cintra, Nikos Hatzopoulos
Director: Manoel de Oilveira
Screenplay: Manoel de Oliveira

 

 

At the time of its creation, Manoel de Oliveira (I'm Going Home, The Convent) was (and still is, as of this writing) the oldest living film director still working, at the age of 95.  I mention this, not because it is important, but it is factual, as well as an interesting tidbit in itself.  It's also a perfect example of what the film that he wrote and directed, A Talking Picture, is like.  It is a nonstop semi-travelogue full of interesting facts and trivia, showcasing historic locales and dialogue that frequently engages the characters in discussions of social significance, both past and present. 

Although it would seem like a fairly dry experience (and it sometimes can be), it soon becomes clear that there is a direction that the story is headed, no doubt inspired by the aftermath of 9/11.  It is about the emergence of civilizations, and how they have all become dominant and eventually faded over time, but more importantly, how they have all contributed to shape the world we have today.  More specifically, the dealings between the European and Arab world emerge, in all of their affairs and wars, and the implications of all of this for today's society of dichotomy.

De Oliveira casts favorite actress, Leonor Silveira, as Rosa Maria, a Portuguese history professor traveling via cruise with her inquisitive young daughter, Maria Joana.  They are off to see Maria Joana's father, but along the way, Rosa Maria has decided to see all of the sites she has only come to know through her history books, and to impart their significance to her daughter along the way.  Athens, Pompeii, Istanbul, Egypt, and India are some of the important stops, as they admire the architecture and famous locations of religious and cultural focus.  On their travels, they also meet many people, including the captain of their vessel, John Walesa (John Malkovich, Knockaround Guys), who includes them in an interesting discussion with different European women (Deneuve, Papas, Sandrelli) of fame and beauty.  The histories of each country of origin is discussed, through art, language and customs, and the common bonds between them.

A Talking Picture might be of interest for armchair tourists and those who enjoy the History Channel, as it does feature a wealth of information and nicely shot vistas around famous world monuments.  In many respects, it feels very much like an educational video, with its unnatural conversations between colorful characters contrived in order that an overall message can be delivered.  Only in the final moments does A Talking Picture begin to resemble a straightforward film, although it is still in allegorical mode, never really developing its characters or events as anything more than a means to an end. 

While the movie is occasionally interesting, it is also very bland and uneventful much of the time.  Casting well-known actors in supporting roles does help spice things up a bit, and there are conversations between the characters that are poignant and smart enough to almost make the film worthwhile. 

As mentioned previously, there is a message to all of what we see, and we get the sense that it is all heading up to something important, and without spoiling it, it is an event that brings all of the discussions to a head.  Unfortunately, what should have been the most gripping and erudite moments of the movie lay limp and ineffective, and what's worse, predictable.  It sure doesn't help that the final freeze framed shot is unintentionally humorous, where it should have been much more serious, given the gravity of the situation at hand. 

A Talking Picture is a stiff and artificial piece that contains its share of interesting moments, but never really achieves the absorption level required to make it truly compelling.  The allegorical qualities will keep the attention of some of the more perceptive members of the audience, especially as it pertains to the post-9/11 climate, but even in this respect, the presentation could have been handled with a little more depth of feeling.  Elegantly developed, but lacking the emotions and vitality that any film about rich cultural commentary should.

2005 Vince Leo