×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Talking Picture

Destined to divide Manoel de Oliveira's fans, "A Talking Picture" is his simplest, most linear story in memory. A prof takes her daughter on a cruise around the Mediterranean, admiring its monuments to civilization -- but culture is a fragile thing in a barbarous world. This parable should tempt some new travelers to voyage with the director.

With:
Rosa Maria - Leonor Silveira Maria Joana - Filipa de Almeida Captain - John Malkovich Helena - Irene Papas Delphine - Catherine Deneuve Francesca - Stefania Sandrelli Actor - Luis Miguel Cintra

A film destined to divide Manoel de Oliveira’s fans but also to win him new ones, “A Talking Picture” is his simplest, most linear story in memory. A history prof takes her daughter on a cruise around the Mediterranean, admiring its monuments to civilization — but culture is a fragile thing in a barbarous world. While ennui sets in midway through the voyage, broken by a surprise ending with little of the ambiguity the director is prized for, nevertheless, with stars like Oliveira vets John Malkovich, Irene Papas and Catherine Deneuve aboard, this literate but accessible parable should tempt some new travelers to voyage with the director.

The warning implicit in film’s title is redundant, given the unchecked flow of dialogue in most of the director’s work. In fact, here images steal the scene, at least in film’s first half. Rosa Maria (Leonor Silveira) and her 8-year-old daughter Maria Joana (Filipa de Almeida) embark on a cruise ship in Lisbon. They plan to get off in Bombay, where Rosa Maria’s husband, an airline pilot, will join them on vacation.

At every port of call — Marseilles, Naples, Athens, Istanbul, Cairo — Rosa Maria patiently describes to her daughter the history and myths surrounding the great Mediterranean civilizations. From Pompeii and Vesuvius to the Acropolis, Hagia Sophia to the pyramids, these two charming tourists talk culture in the most graceful way, exchanging views with local guides and, at one point, with Oliveira regular Luis Miguel Cintra (playing himself).

After quite a number of these excursions, the scene shifts to the ship’s dining room for the lengthy final scenes.

In a repeated gag, famous faces have boarded the ship in various ports: Catherine Deneuve in Marseilles, Stefania Sandrelli in Naples and Irene Papas in Athens. Now they come together at captain John Malkovich’s table for some dinner conversation.

In another successful gag, each speaks in his or her native tongue — English, French, Italian and Greek — and they understand each other perfectly. (Thanks to subtitles, so does the audience.) Malkovich, who seems to be awkwardly improvising throughout, notes how nice it is to speak foreign languages, the root of civilization.

Their stilted, pompous conversation, which drones on, lacks both the wit and irony of Oliveira’s trademark literary dialogue. It’s a relief when the clear-headed Rosa Maria and bright Maria Joana are invited to join them.

But culture offers no shield against a sudden threat that looms when the captain is called away from the table, and the tale ends on a very bleak note.

Oliveira’s muse Silveira shows divine calm, clarity and self-confidence delivering history lessons to young de Almeida, a model student who doesn’t mind asking what a pharaoh or an Arab is. Deneuve, who plays a rich businesswoman, is surprisingly under-used, while Sandrelli, cast as a tearful former model, works very poorly as an Oliveira character. Of the three graces, Papas comes off best and, playing a famous singer, beautifully performs a long Greek folksong.

Emmanuel Machuel’s lensing is simple and unfussy, privileging auds with shots of monuments like the Sphinx, while keeping to the bare essentials aboard ship. A prow cutting through the ocean suggests all the movement the film needs.

A Talking Picture

Portugal-France-Italy

Production: A Madragoa Filmes/Gemini Films/Mikado Film/France 2 Cinema co-production. (International sales: Gemini Films, Paris.) Produced by Paulo Branco. Directed, written by Manoel de Oliveira.

Crew: Camera (color), Emmanuel Machuel; editor, Valerie Loiseleux; production designer, Ze Branco; costume designer, Isabel Branco; sound (Dolby Digital), Philippe Morel. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Aug. 30, 2003. Running time: 96 MIN. (Portuguese, English, French, Greek dialogue)

With: Rosa Maria - Leonor Silveira Maria Joana - Filipa de Almeida Captain - John Malkovich Helena - Irene Papas Delphine - Catherine Deneuve Francesca - Stefania Sandrelli Actor - Luis Miguel Cintra

More Film

  • Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman Starring in

    Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman Starring in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' for Netflix

    Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman will star in the movie adaptation of the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” for Netflix. George C. Wolfe (“Lackawanna Blues”) will direct from a script by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the award-winning play by August Wilson. Other cast include Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Michael Potts. Denzel [...]

  • Crazy Bitches

    Why the CASE Act Will Empower Creatives to Fight the Horrors of Piracy

    Our horror film, “Crazy Bitches,” was released on Valentine’s Day 2015. We invested in an online marketing campaign that resulted in two times the industry clickthrough rate and 2.6M social media impressions in the week leading up to the release. So, we had reason to expect a successful return. What we didn’t count on was [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse LA

    Alamo Drafthouse to Open in Downtown Los Angeles in July

    The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain is planning to open its first Los Angeles location with a “soft launch” in early July in the city’s downtown. The Texas-based chain, which has 38 locations, specializes food and drink service with unique programming. It announced Wednesday that the Los Angeles site, located at the Bloc, would offer an [...]

  • Max Landis Dropped by Manager Following

    Max Landis Dropped by Manager Following Sexual Assault Allegations

    Max Landis has been dropped as a client by his manager, a day after sexual assault allegations emerged against the  screenwriter. “I do not represent Max Landis,” Britton Rizzio at Writ Large Management told Variety in a statement. Landis is facing allegations of sexual abuse and psychological manipulation from eight women who told their stories [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Another Round of Layoffs Hit Disney and 20th Century Fox Film Divisions (EXCLUSIVE)

    Another round of layoffs are going down for employees merged in Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, individuals with knowledge of the company told Variety. The Wednesday reduction is the smallest round the studio has enacted since formally acquiring the film and TV assets of 20th Century in March, with a few dozen employees being [...]

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda

    Netflix Lands Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Tick, Tick... Boom' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Following a heated bidding war, Netflix has walked away with the rights to “Tick, Tick… Boom,” a musical adaptation to be directed by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Sources say Andrew Garfield is the top choice to star, though no deal is done. “Dear Evan Hansen” writer Stephen Levenson adapting the script based on the original [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content