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Kino on Video presents
A Talking Picture (2003)

"Can you steal a goddess?"
- Joana (Filipa de Almeida)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 05, 2005

Stars: Leonor Silveira, Catherine Deneuve, Irene Papas, Stefania Sandrelli, John Malkovich
Director: Manoel de Oliveira

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:30m:43s
Release Date: April 05, 2005
UPC: 738329039820
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- C-B-B- D

DVD Review

When filmmakers start touting their intellectual props, it's time to reach for the No-Doz. Manoel de Olveira's movie is intelligent and ambitious, but it's so schematic that watching it is more like reading a graph than getting emotionally involved in a story; he's able to attract some serious talent to his picture, but the implied promise of a visceral and entertaining movie is never made good.

The movie may be most successful as an incidental travelogue. It tells the story of Rosa (played by the engaging Leonor Silveira), a history professor at Lisbon University, traveling by boat with her young daughter Joana, to meet up with Daddy—Rosa's husband is an airline pilot changing crews in Bombay, and this sea journey is an opportunity for the professor to see the places she teaches about, and for her little girl to be introduced to some of the great wonders of the world. They leave from Portugal and travel east, to Marseilles, Naples, Athens, Istanbul, Cairo; and there are many beautiful shots of the pyramids and the Sphinx, the Acropolis, and so on. As they travel, Rosa makes conversations with the locals, including a fisherman in Marseilles, a Greek Orthodox priest who becomes their impromptu tour guide in Athens, and a Portuguese actor of some renown happy to find these countrywomen, with whom he can speak in his native tongue. Some of it is very pretty, but the recurring shot of the movie is one of the ship's prow knifing through the waters of the Mediterranean. Or, we spend a lot of time looking at a boat moving through the water.

Certainly Olveira would encourage us to read this metaphorically, about a journey from West to East, from the present into the past, or to apply your ship-of-state analogy of choice; but his film is insufficiently poetic to operate on this literary level exclusively, and so we're not left with a whole lot else. The second half of the picture focuses more on what's going on aboard the vessel, and featured prominently is your ship's captain, John Malkovich. Mother and daughter glance across the dining room as the captain dines with three accomplished and beautiful women; we're privy to the conversation, with each of the four speaking in their native tongue. (That's Malkovich speaking in English; Catherine Deneuve in French; Irene Papas in Greek; and Stefania Sandrelli in Italian.) This is obviously more of a largely impenetrable or pointless metaphorical scheme, a polyglot Tower of Babel—each of them is deeply impressed with the intelligence of their conversation about the very nature of civilization, but I will wager that you will not be. Call me anti-intellectual, if you like, but this lack of action on boardleft me hungering for a little Kate and Leo, for anything to happen at all.

Alas, my wish was granted, in an unconvincing, inorganic conclusion; as audience members, we're so bereft of empathy for these people that this becomes preposterous. No doubt this is supposed to reflect on the current state of Western civilization, but in truth it's just very, very silly. Of course I believe in the power of movies to participate in and further public debate, but this isn't the way to do it. 

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The exterior scenes have transferred much better than the interior ones, which look muddy and faded, almost as if the film stocks don't match. It's discordant, sort of in keeping with the muddied thinking in the filmmaking. 

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Portuguese, English, French, Italian, Greekno

Audio Transfer Review: The multilingual track may be the stuff of a U.N. interpreter's dreams, or nightmares; there seems to be very little dubbing, so it's not as clear as it might be, and you'll lean heavily on the subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Untold Scandal
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. photo gallery
Extras Review: There's a filmography for the director, and a gallery of twenty photos from the set. Also, the back cover of the case promises an essay looking at Olveira's career, but none accompanied the disc sent for review.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The uncharitable would readily call this movie pretentious, and having spent ninety minutes of my life watching it, charity isn't high on my list right now. As ever, your mileage may vary. There are some pretty pictures, though.


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