A Talking Picture

Director: Manoel de Oliveira

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

There was a scene by scene competence to A Talking Picture (Um Filme Falado, 2003), so that I struggled to remain patient with the fact that it is boring & pointless. It is in the main a travelog, not a story, & much of the time comes across as merely instructional for kids.

A history professor (Leonor Silveira) takes her little daughter (Filipa de Almeida) on a cruise from Lisbon toward Bombay stopping at many ports to look at famous sites, & the mom tells simple legends & bits of history in the manner of any two-euro tourist-guide.

She meets other people along the way who add to the endless lectury dialogue, & each person in turn speaks in the exact same tourist-guide voice, robbing the mother-historian of any chance to seem like an individual (if boring) character who can't do anything but spout nuggets of history. People who like travel documentaries might like this advertisement for a sea cruise, but I felt ripped off for my time.

The advertised stars which attracted me to this turkey were John Malkovich as the cruise captain, Catherine Deneuve as the business tycoon, Irene Papas as the aging folksinger actress, & Stefania Sandrelli as the widowed aging former model.

These characters show up after an hour & we have to watch them have their Captain's Dinner Table conversation in which they congratulate themselves at length for being able to each speak to one another in their own languages & be understood by the rest, how brilliantly cosmopolitan they all are, but how unfortunate the rest of the world, other than themselves, the world full of ignorance & stupidity.

This was like revisiting My Dinner With Andre (1981), but with four insufferable phony-intellectual chatterboxes instead of just Andre. I remarked to Granny Artemis, "If Luis Bunuel had directed this film, Terrorists would blow their table up right now, killing these self-important cretins as a joke."

[SPOILER ALERT] In the penultimate scenes the lecturing professor with her daughter & the self-important cretins all get to know each other over dinner, just before the ship has to be abandoned because terrorists had wired the ship to blow up.

Well, it still wasn't Luis Bunuel, because all the self-important cretins escape unscathed, but the professor & her daughter are blown up with the ship, an "exciting action climax" tacked on most pointlessly. The last image of Malkovich staring from his lifeboat at the exploding ship has him with an expression that seems to say, "Why in hell did I agree to be in this stupid movie?" [END SPOILER ALERT]

Advertised as a "meditation on civilization" this film has only one voice, & ultimately no characters, just several actors hired to take turns reading an aging director's self-indulgent essay.

The inexplicable action-ending was so silly & out of place that I felt truly betrayed for my patience with this tedious turd. Possibly the director seriously meant to say, "Life is dull, then shit happens," but I really wondered if he hadn't actually had a couple of strokes that erased from his brain everything he'd learned in a lifetime of filmmaking, thus he approached A Talking Picture as an abject amateur. And it's hands-down Malkovich's worst performance, as even his genius can't save the interminable repetitions of colorless text.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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