Saturday, February 6, 2010
Othello; drama, USA, 1952; D: Orson Welles, S: Orson Welles, Micheál Mac Liammhóir, Suzanne Cloutier, Robert Coote, Michael Laurence
Othello, a respectable Moor general, secretly marries Desdemona in Venice despite the objections of her father. They leave to Cyprus to prevent a Turkish attack. But Othello's servant Iago is jealous of Cassio who was promoted to lieutenant instead of him. Iago thus agitates Othello into thinking that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. In an act of jealousy, Othello kills Desdemona. Upon realizing his misguided deed, he kills himself.
Winner of the Golden Palm in Cannes, an achievement that was made despite numerous financial troubles and shamelessly neglected in some circles for some time, Orson Welles' "Othello" is one of the best movie adaptations of Shakespeare's play with the same title. Welles is both in top-notch shape in his double role both as an actor and a director: his acting and the way he filmed himself are among his best work. The film is very demanding stuff - some of Shakespeare's lines today seem dated and artificial - but many of them still radiate with that timeless virtue of wisdom and observation about humans (for instance, Iago's classic monologue: "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;’ Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name, robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed."), especially in the powerful three themes of the story: jealousy, agitation and, to a slighter degree, interracial relationship. In the opening shot the hypnotic tone of the film is already set-up: Othello's nose and mouth "emerge" from the complete darkness, slowly revealing his body on the bed. "Othello" is filled with such great visual style, from the camera that pans across the shore to display people's clothes getting pulled from a storm, through the play of shadows and light in the Turkish bath sequence, up to the bird's-eye view of the title protagonist threatening Iago to push him down the cliff into the sea if he is lying, whereas Welles modern direction is powerful. Some minor flaws, like an occasional scene that drags, do little to damage the overall very successful tragedy.