Sunday, November 06, 2005

‘a talking picture’

in manoel de oliveira’s ‘a talking picture’ a history teacher and her daughter are on a cruise to india to join the girls’ father in bombay. the ship makes stops at marseilles, naples, athens, constantinople, cairo and aden on the way to india.. as the ship passes we are given a stilted informative history lecture with postcard like shots of monuments. characters step into the frame merely to supply us with legends, myths and narratives from the troubled history of western civilization.

after leaving aden the movie shifts gear into a series of staged dinner table conversations between three women from different countries – a french business woman, an italian ex-model and a greek actress; and the polish american captain of the ship played by john malkovich. these conversations rotate around the themes of nationhood, language, war, love and longing- the tower of babel, the tree of goodness… until an arab terrorist bomb blows the ship apart, killing the mother and daughter.

a fantastic film.. bending any preconceived notions i might have had of film making. a travelogue and a history lesson and a serious exploration of the state of the world today.. except , at least it seemed to me, to be from a completely eurocentric point of view. while the first few shots do dwell on the portuguese colonization of the world and there were many references to the faded glory of the value systems of the west; the easterner or the oriental was always treated as the alien outsider.

perhaps there is a truth to this. maybe the value systems of the west along with democracy and christianity are completely alien to the value system of the arab world- and therefore threatening. what was i expecting from a portuguese film maker looking at the state of the world today?

perhaps i was expecting the self flagellating guilt that we are so used to whenever someone from the west begins to talk about the relationship of the first world to the rest of the world. always slightly patronizing. thankfully, i did not get it. instead the film sketched out the impossibility of mutual understanding between different nations all attempting the create their own ideas of civilization through the exercise of power. every civilization has been and will be genocidal.

perhaps there are many more readings of the film.. maybe it was about the death of western civilizations and a paean to it… maybe it was a wake up call i have read a review that completely inverts my own reading of it.. and it sounds convinced .. i don’t know.. confusing.. but very very good.

1 comment:

sonal said...

lovely post rona.