Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira’s Um Filme Falado (A Talking Picture), is certainly that – especially in the second half it’s a veritable My Dinner With Andre. I can’t help but think what a miss this was. The concept showed great promise, but it failed to deliver. Worse, it degenerated and fell flat – though it went out with a bang.
Rosa Maria is a history professor who is cruising from Portugal with her sweet and inquisitive seven-year old daughter, Maria Joana. Their destination is Bombay, where they will meet up with the husband, an airline pilot whom they will join for a vacation. Along the way though, traveling west to east they pass backwards through civilization. Rosa, seeing the places she’s taught about, but never seen, acts as her daughters guide: The acropolis, the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul (that great monument first to Christianity, then Islam, now a museum), the ruins of Egypt. The, by-play between mother and daughter, and the daughters questions are quite engaging.
Then the second half, with John Malkovich as the ships captain and his well to do dinner guests, tumble down a path that is poorly acted, poorly staged, poorly directed, and poorly filmed. What a shame, because this could have been a great film. Almost willfully, the aging director seems not to have cared about the medium – his medium – but only the message which is subverted by his lack of craftmanship here.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a film which so utterly failed to live up to its potential as this one does. It could have been an important film. Instead, it’s just a coda to a long career. Maybe Oliveira is just exhausted.