ONE SCENE | Orlando

A play of surfaces. By Louis Rogers

 

The second chapter in Sally Potter’s film Orlando, “Love”, is a mesmerising whirl of snow, fur, and candlelight. At a dinner held on the frozen Thames in the inky depths of winter, Orlando meets Sasha, a Russian princess. They skate, court and flirt in French. But their time isn’t fated to last: after a series of too-fleeting vignettes, Sasha is boarding a ship bound to leave when the ice breaks. Later that night, the ice that has supported (physically) the dreamworld of Orlando’s winter splits beneath his feet, and he has to run across the loosening floes to find firm land. 

In the volatile surface of the broken ice – its precariousness offering both danger and promise – Orlando’s essence is expressed. Across its chapters, the hard surface of reality is constantly dissolving and resolidifying in new, sumptuous forms. Meanwhile, Orlando resettles in new genders, roles, and locales. The film is a giddy celebration of the litheness of the surfaces of our selves and the self-renewal they permit. The continuous transformation of Orlando’s self is as organic as that of the successively freezing, melting and pooling surface of a body of water. Queer theorist Jack Halberstam describes trans bodies as “a play of surfaces” – a perfect summary of Orlando him/herself.

Once he has refound his footing after the tumultuous breaking of the ice, Orlando catches his breath, ruminates, and looks directly into the camera. In these distinctive, startling moments, the surface of the film is ruptured – it’s as if Orlando is staring right through the celluloid – but will be repaired in the next moment, when the film cuts to a servant trying to wake him in the morning light. The film’s surface – or rather its play of surfaces – is enlivened, not weakened, by Orlando’s capricious attitude towards it. Orlando celebrates and perhaps even learns something from the ice’s habits. As author Ali Smith has it, in her book Winter, “That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again.” 

 

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