Ulrike Ottinger: Freak Orlando (1981)

Posted · Add Comment

In the form of a “small theater of the world”, a history of the world from its beginnings to our day,  including the errors, the incompetence, the thirst for power, the fear, the madness, the cruelty and the commonplace, in a story of five episodes.

First Episode

Where it is told how Orlando Zyklopa, with her seven dwarf-shoemakers, as special attraction at the instant shoe repair service at the Freak City department store, strikes the anvil; how she is driven away by Herbert Zeus, store manager; then, as queen of the seven dwarf-athletes, how she climbs up onto the Trojan Horse; and finally how she refuses to be the successor of the stylite, which leads to her death.

Second Episode

Where it is told how Orlando Orlanda, alias Orlando Zyklopa, is born as a miracle on the steps of a basilicum in the Middle Ages and, with her two heads, enchants those around her with a lovely song in two-part harmony; how she cannot prevent the flagellants from taking two acrobats prisoner and leading them out of the city in their procession, which leads her to pursue them with the famous dwarf Galli, a painter, up to the convent of Wilgeforte, the bearded woman saint; how she is dressed in new clothes in the department store warehouse; and how she undergoes an amazing metamorphosis while Galli paints her portrait.

Third Episode

Where it is told how Orlando Capricho, alias Orlando Orlanda, alias Orlando Zyklopa, has to admit that she has been captivated by a special travel offer made by the department store, announced by a seductive voice; how she learns distrust when she sees her mirror image; how she falls into the hands of the persecutors of the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 18th century; how she has to undergo a thousand dangers and adventures, barely escaping internment in prison; and how she is finally deported with people of every description, which Galli El Primo illustrates faithfully.

Fourth Episode

Where it is told how Mr. Orlando, alias Orlando Capricho, alias Orlando Orlanda, alias Orlando Zyklopa, is engaged at the entrance to the psychiatric ward by the freak-artistes of a side-show traveling around the country; how he quickly falls in love with the left side of Siamese-twin sisters, named Lena, something the other, named Leni, cannot abide; which is why Mr. Orlando, entangled in a rather confusing affair, stabs Leni and thereby also inevitably kills Lena, whom he loved so much; and how the head of the troupe is forced to sentence Mr. Orlando to death in compliance with an age-old tradition of the artistes.

Fifth Episode

Where it is told how Mrs. Orlando, called Freak Orlando because of her special orientation, alias Mr. Orlando, alias Orlando Capricho, alias Orlando Orlanda, alias Orlando Zyklopa, is engaged as entertainer and tours Europe with four bunnies; how she is in great demand as an attraction for openings of shopping centers, family celebrations, etc.; how, finally she is engaged to host the show at the annual festival of ugliness; how she crowns the winner and bestows a trophy with the inscription: “Limping is the way of the crippled,” and, at the end of the festival, we are told that the story is over.

*Ulrike Ottinger, is a German filmmaker, documentarian photographer and professor at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.