A Talking Picture | Chicago Reader

A Talking Picture

Before turning 70 in 1978, Manoel de Oliveira had made just five features; since then he's directed more than 20, some of them masterpieces and some just mannerist curiosities. A comic parable deceptively couched in the form of a 19th-century travel narrative, this 2003 drama is a little of both. A young Portuguese history professor and her daughter sail from Lisbon to Bombay, tracing the roots of civilization during stopovers in France, Italy, Greece, and Egypt. Three famous women (Catherine Deneuve, Stefania Sandrelli, Irene Papas) join the voyage and dine every night with the American captain (John Malkovich). In some ways this seems naive and archaic—especially the assumption that "civilization" is basically found north of the Mediterranean—but it conceals a Buñuelian stinger in its tail that's very contemporary. In Portuguese, French, and Greek with subtitles.

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