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Talking Picture, A

Kino // Unrated // April 5, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted March 10, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

I like movies that involve interesting discussions. My Dinner with Andre, a film about the conversation two people have while dining was a wonderful film that I kept thinking about days after I had first seen it. So when I discovered that I was going to review Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira's film A Talking Picture (which he also wrote,) I was cautiously optimistic. As you may guess from the title, this is a film that relies heavily on dialog to tell its story. Unfortunately, the script is lifeless and lackluster making this a film that will not appeal to many people.

Rosa Maria is a history professor at Lisbon University. She and her seven year old daughter, Maria, are taking a cruise around the Mediterranean so that she can visit the famous sites she has read about, but never seen. The ship stops in Marseilles, Naples, and Istanbul, among other places, and Rosa explains the history of the places they are seeing. About half way through, the narrative switches to the captain's table, where several famous women dine with the captain. As they eat, the group discusses love, history, culture, even touch on politics. Each person speaking their native language, though everyone can follow the conversation, of course. (Why the director chose to have the conversation take place in 4 languages is beyond me. Though it could happen, it only serves to remind the viewer that they are watching a movie.)

This movie had a lot of potential, but failed on every single level. I was amazed at how many things just were done poorly. The script was the biggest culprit, with inane conversations and really stupid exchanges.

For the daughter of a history professor, Maria certainly has had a limited education. Her role consists of asking her mother questions like "What is a myth?" and "What's a volcano?" Things that my children knew when they were much younger. Rosa answers in terms that a 5 year old would understand. The legends and tales she tells about the places that they visit are also aimed at the very young. Often chopping a story from ancient history down to one or two monosyllabic sentences, the film quickly becomes tedious for anyone who is over the age of 6.

When the director, apparently tired of the dull witted child and her mother abruptly shifts the narrative, things actually take a turn for the worse. The dinner conversation is very pretentious and terribly uninteresting. Writer/director Oliveira has a terrible ear for dialog because real people don't talk the way that these people conversed. The lines all had an unrealistic feel to them, as if the speaker was reading from a text book, not really talking to friends.

The dinner conversations consisted of nothing more than a series of random observations that were strung together. None of these observations were very pithy or thought provoking, and just seemed to drag the movie down even further. A typical example is when Irene Papas bemoans the fact (over and over again) that though Greece was the cradle of civilization, the Greek language is not spoken any where else in the world. "The English language has colonized the world....but it was not the basis of our civilization."

The direction was also very uninspiring. There is hardly any camera movement at all, and very few cuts. The film mostly contains long and medium shots, and the lack of interesting angles just adds to the films monotony. As the ship leaves every port, Oliveira inserts the same shot of the bow of the ship plowing through the water. He included it so many times that it was actually comical by the end of the film.

The acting wasn't anything to be impressed by either. John Malkovich plays the Captain of the cruise ship and does a fairly unconvincing job. He is very soft spoken and doesn't seem to command respect. The Captain spends a lot of his time flattering the women he encounters to such an extent that he appears to be trying to pick them up.

Nothing seemed to work with this film. There was no attempt to give any of the characters personality, the script was stodgy, and the acting mediocre at best. Hard as it is to believe, the ending of the film is the worst part, making this movie laughably bad.

The DVD:


The only audio option is a stereo mix of the original Potuguese (with some French, Italian, Greek and English thrown in too.) The audio was fairly unexciting. While there were no glaring defects, the dialog sounded a little flat and thin. There are English subtitles, though the English portions of the dialog are not included, making it difficult for someone who is hard of hearing to enjoy this film.


The anamorphic widescreen image is about average. The image is a little soft, and the colors are not bright and vivid like I was hoping, but these are minor problems. Digital defects are minimal also. A standard looking DVD.


This disc also includes the trailer for the film, a still gallery, and a text filmography of director Manoel De Oliveira.

Final Thoughts:

I really can't think of any aspect of this film to single out for praise. The only positive thing I can think to say is that it's not the worst movie I've ever seen. The script is horrible, the dialog is ludicrous and there is no plot. The acting is average and the direction of this film makes it look like something that was filmed in the early 1930's, but without the charm of an old film. Just pass this one by. Skip it.

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