Directed by Sally Potter
The story of a sex-shifting immortal, Orlando remains Sally Potter's best-known experiment, re-releasable now as a Tilda Swinton showcase and as a waltzing burst of well-appointed gender play of the sort that might not come into existence now. Potter adapts Virginia Woolf's original 1928 novel, which, amazingly, came on the heels of Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse (and was followed by A Room of One's Own). Curtailing the full spectrum of ambiguities surrounding identity, Potter relies on Swinton's portrait-come-alive aristo-cred to see us through several eras of affairs and power scuffles with a wink and a swoon.
Potter's fellow stager-theorists Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman are touchstones for Orlando. Potter uses Greenaway's production and costume designers for precise grandeur, and scores Nyman-esque organizing iterations; Swinton came from playing historical hopscotch in Jarman's troupe of irregulars, and five years earlier wowed in a cross-dressing one-person stage play. Orlando, "mascot" to Queen Elizabeth (Quentin Crisp), is ordered not to grow old; she obeys, and across leaps of 50 and 100 years, we observe her rebellions and affairs.
Orlando's gliding past boundaries makes for a romantic rush that's key to the movie's appeal. At the restoration premiere that kicked off Potter's MoMA retrospective, the director aptly quoted the phrase "ease and dash" from Woolf's diaries after the book's publication. And in Swinton, Potter finds an ideal presenter of to-camera aperçus and confidences—a device that embodies the actress's beguiling blend of directness, wryness, and otherworldly flicker.Opens July 23 at Lincoln Plaza