“Well with your reputation Orlando, who else would have you?” the aristocrat says to Tilda Swinton at one point in Orlando (1992). Based on Virginia Wolff’s semi-roman à clef novel, Orlando is a breezy, magical, visually resplendent tale of gender-bending social time travel. It established British director Sally Potter as a daring cinematic force to be reckoned with and gave Tilda Swinton a role she was born to play. Seen through the eyes of a protagonist who switches between genders as if it was “no difference at all,” it’s a film about love, death, poetry, sex, childhood, and old age, set through 400 years of European history. It’s a subversive spectacle that uses history as a stage to play, tweak, and experiment with ideas of identity (sexual and otherwise), social construct, and art. And in offering a sumptuous and humorous exploration of mores, past and present (while featuring a few literary celebrity cameos), it fully rejects the notion a period piece must be stuffy and formal. The modern cinema is all the better for it.
-Written by Scott Lang