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Thursday, 24 June 2021

First Impression: 'Freak Orlando', a surrealist history of the world

Ulrike Ottinger's 1981 film was chosen by Egyptian director Hala Lotfy, to be screened in the Carte Blanche section of the 9th Panorama of the European Film

Leslie Carey, Saturday 5 Nov 2016
Freak Orlando
(Photo: still from Freak Orlando)

Egyptian director Hala Lotfy’s choice for the Carte Blanche section of Panorama, Ulrike Ottinger's Freak Orlando (1981) is an all-singing, all-dancing low-budget history of the world, seen through the eyes of a lone traveler who journeys into ‘Freak City,’meeting, fighting, and falling in love with a cast of garishly costumed religious fanatics, deranged shoppers, circus folk and a variety of crusty, aging femme fatales.

Lotfy introduced the film at Friday’s showing, saying she found the cinemetagrophy “visually captivating,” with themes from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography, turned out in a funny and compelling new light. Having seen the film in New York last year, she was excited to bring it home for the Egyptian audience.  

This film is not for the faint of heart, or really anyone who wants a plot they can explain to someone after seeing it. Rather, it’s a long, rickety rollercoaster ride through Ottinger’s imagination, where free-association reigns. The movie opens in a dingy shopping mall, where customers in plastic raincoats line up to have a Nordic goddess hammer ‘the seal of mythological quality’ onto the back of their sandals—destroying the shoes in the process.

The customers revolt, chasing the goddess (our traveler, who assumes different roles throughout the film) slowly down several flights of escalators into a wilderness that’s equal parts mythical forest, industrial wasteland and possibly Ottinger’s backyard. Things get weirder from there.

Amidst the mayhem there is heavy social commentary, on themes ranging from the patriarchy to religious extremism, to consumerism and groupthink. Bizarre, irritating, by turns freaky, gross, slow and boring, the film definitely lingers, pinching you with scenes and symbols you’ll be trying to figure out for days.   

Freak Orlando
(Photo: still from Freak Orlando)

Freak Orlando will be screened on Sunday, 6 November, at Cinema Zawya, 4 Abdel Hamid Said Street, off Talaat Harb Street, Downtown Cairo

Check the complete programme of Panorama for Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia and Port Said here

Ahram Online is the media sponsor of The Panorama of the European Film and of Zawya

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