Just about every night at the Brattle Theatre (through September 23) is Tilda Swinton night. What’s not be thrilled about?
By Peg Aloi
First up in the Brattle Theatre’s tribute to the phenomenon known as Tilda Swinton (whom the Brattle programmers have dubbed the world’s greatest actress for this series, part of their “A Year of Women in Cinema” focus) is Sally Potter’s Orlando, based upon Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending novel of the same name. This film’s minimal theatricality, combined with its glorious visuals and unusual juxtapositions of music and imagery, is artful enough, but then there is Swinton at its heart, in a role where, with mercurial wit and grace, she plays a man, a woman, and beings somewhere along that continuum. An iconic contemporary film, it put Potter’s strange art on the cinema map. The screening is followed by Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio, which is about the artist and his muses. Both films are being shown in 35mm, as are a number of other films in this program (bless this theatre for doing this as often as they do).
Swinton’s career could be said to have truly begun with Orlando, but her earlier work with Jarman, when she still had long flowing auburn hair, is worth seeking out. The Brattle show leaves out her turns in War Requiem and Edward II, but another gorgeous Jarman film featuring Swinton, The Last of England, screens tomorrow (with Danny Boyle’s The Beach). As for her hair, Swinton tends to wear it short and blonde these days, perhaps because she often chooses parts calibrated to show off her otherworldy androgyny (she’s been compared to David Bowie, and she is often fashioned in the pop icon’s likeness). And the clipped cut also accentuates her combination of fey features and an unexpectedly fierce emotional power.
Just about every night at the Brattle through September 23 is Tilda Swinton night. What’s not be thrilled about? Other exciting offerings to come include The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (you can guess which titular character she plays); I am Love, a stunning Italian/English feature that won widespread critical acclaim; Michael Clayton, a nuanced thriller with George Clooney; Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, a devastating portrait of teenager who becomes a mass murderer and the aftermath’s effects on his mother (Swinton plays this role with brutal clarity); and some comedies, such as Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck and the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!.
The closing selection is a highlight: Jim Jarmusch’s lush, lyric Only Lovers Left Alive, showing in 35mm; it’s a film about vampires struggling to live in the modern world, co-starring Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hurt, and Anton Yelchin. There’s one unfilled TBA slot; maybe Snowpiercer, in which Swinton plays a rather brutal government officer in a brilliant dystopian epic? Maybe Young Adam, the steamy yet chilling romance with Ewan Macgregor? I can’t see how either choice will disappoint.
Editor’s Note: One interesting entry in the Swinton round-up is the 2014 documentary The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger, a compendium documentary dedicated to the life and thought of the exemplary (and unapologetic) Marxist art critic and novelist, who died earlier this year at the age of 90. Those who have not read his Booker prize-winning G. and his first novel, A Painter of Our Time should do so. The actress is one of four directors (the others are Christopher Roth, Colin MacCabe, and Bartek Dziadosz). Admittedly, the film (which will screen on September 20) is poky, self-indulgent, and eccentric — but it is stimulating none the less, if only for a chance to hear Berger orate on art, nature, and revolution. — Bill Marx
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for The Boston Phoenix. She taught film and TV studies for ten years at Emerson College, and currently teaches at SUNY New Paltz. Her reviews also appear regularly online for The Orlando Weekly and Diabolique. Her long-running media blog “The Witching Hour” has recently been moved to a new domain: themediawitch.com.