Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ralph Fiennes's "Coriolanus" (2011)

I am not into modern updates of Shakespeare, especially those with a political axe to grind. Such updates seem to condescend to the audience, as if we cannot be trusted to draw our own conclusions from a straight production of the Elizabethan Shakespeare. In movies, the contemporary imagery also tends to overwhelm the Shakespearian language. Ralph Fiennes's modern adaptation of Coriolanus does not escape these pitfalls. The battle scenes, set in a war-torn city that could be Baghdad or Kabul, could have been lifted from any number of modern combat movies. The riot for bread played like an angry protest on TV. I was also struck by how inefficient film conventions are compared to those of the stage. When Coriolanus approached Aufidius to offer himself as an ally, the camera followed Coriolanus slowly through a dark tunnel to the enemy headquarters. On stage, he would have just appeared in Aufidius' presence.

But Fiennes managed to capture on the big screen the nuances of the complex relationships between Coriolanus (Fiennes) and his nemesis Aufidius (Gerard Butler), and between Coriolanus and his mother Volumnia, a powerful and poignant Vanessa Redgrave. Yes, the plot pivoted on Coriolanus' patrician contempt for the unwashed masses. The emotional crux, however, lay in his absolute allegiance to the truth of himself, early on encouraged by Volumnia. That such absoluteness is lonesome may explain Coriolanus' eagerness to find in Aufidius an opposite and a twin. When Volumnia pleaded with her son to betray himself by sparing Rome, she was in effect asking him to destroy himself. Aufidius was merely the convenient knife. The terrible nobility of such self-justification was the source of the sublime in this film version.

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