A finer version than that of Laurence Olivier!
Black and white cinematography of Gritsius, the music of Shostakovich and the enigmatic face of Jarvet, makes all other versions of King Lear smaller in stature. Lord Olivier himself acknowledged the stark brilliance of this film. Oleg Dal's fool lends a fascinating twist to the character. The "Christian Marxism" of Kosintsev can knock-out any serious student of cinema and Shakespeare. I recommend this version to serious viewers. Don't miss this little known classic.
- One of the best Shakespeare's filmings
This is one of rare Shakespeare's filmings, where "filming" doesn't sound as a common noun. Of course Kozintsev is one of the greatest Russian director's, but Jarvet is just genious in his phylosophical interpretation.
-William Shakespeare's King Lear is a medieval morality play that weaves a web of complexity and intrigue based on a misjudgment of character and a struggle for succession. Containing Shakespeare's favorite themes: succession, legitimacy, and bastardy, King Lear has some of the author's most elevated poetry. It is one of Shakespeare's most difficult plays and has been filmed only a handful of times. One of the best cinematic interpretations is that of Russian directors Grigori Kozintsev and Iosif Shapiro's 1971 film, King Lear (Korol Lir), based on a translation by novelist Boris Pasternak and propelled by a dramatic score by composer Dimitri Shostakovich and memorable images by cinematographer Jonas Gritsius.
While Kozintsev does little to clarify the convoluted succession battles and internecine warfare, the overall effect is one of epic sweep and power, with the blindness of the leading protagonists being an apt metaphor in the Russian interpretation for oppressive feudal rule and its results on the downtrodden masses ("A generalized picture of a civilization heading towards doom", is how Kozintsev described his King Lear).
At a royal banquet, an aging king of ancient Britain plans to vacate his throne and divide his kingdom equally among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Before he does this, he asks each daughter to tell him how much they love him. Both Goneril and Regan are effusive in their flattery but Cordelia is much less forthcoming, telling him that she loves him but has no words to describe her love. To that King Lear responds, "Nothing will come of nothing", and disowns Cordelia, leaving her without estate but still courted by the king of France. Sadly, Goneril and Regan both proceed to scheme against their father and each other until the wheel turns.
In a sub-plot, an elderly nobleman named Gloucester is tricked by his illegitimate son Edmund into thinking that his legitimate son Edgar is out to kill him. Fleeing the manhunt that his father has set for him, Edgar disguises himself as a crazy beggar and heads out onto the heath in a driving thunderstorm. Lear yields completely to his rage against his daughters who have turned him out and, like Edgar, rushes out into the storm. When they meet, it will be on the Dover Cliffs where each awaits their fate.
Kozintsev's Lear is filmed in black and white and set in a stark landscape of windswept moors and marshes, bare castles and wandering beggars. Kozintsev, a master Russian director and contemporary of Eisenstein, who had been making experimental films during the 1920s, assembled a cast of great actors for the project. King Lear is the thin, tall, gaunt-looking Estonian actor Yuri Yarvet who fully conveys Lear's power and his growing madness and despair. Also Leonhard Merzin and Regimantis Adomaitis as Edgar and Edmund, rival sons of the Duke of Gloucester perform admirably as does Karl Sebris as the Duke of Gloucester.
Accolades must also be given to Oleg Dal as the Fool whose only job is to amuse the King but does so by telling him the truth, using songs and riddles like Feste in Twelfth Night. In a smaller role, Valentina Shendrikova excels as Cordelia. In one of the most touching scenes, "good son" Edgar, pretending to be the madman "Tom o' Bedlam" finds his now blinded father The Duke of Gloucester wandering on a heath in pain and leads him to the Dover cliffs where he walks him to the edge and allows his father to think he is committing suicide, but saves him in a scene of the utmost tenderness. In another memorable scene, after having been banished by both Goneril and Regan, Lear wanders with the Fool and Kent, a nobleman in disguise, on the moors in a vividly-imagined driving thunderstorm until he takes shelter in a hovel, only to find the disguised Edgar.
As recounted by Kozintsev, "When Lear goes mad at the beginning of the storm scene, this is the beginning of an absolutely new relationship with nature. I try to illustrate with this landscape a country which is not bare, not cruel. I try to show Lear himself as a part of nature, in a field of flowers. His hair spreads like moss, the grey hair of nature. Once man is seen as a part of nature, the movement towards regeneration can begin. Cordelia too has her own landscape–sea and a very wide landscape–with waves and seagulls. All the important characters have their own atmosphere and there are relationships not just on the level of character but between different aspects of nature." Kozintsev's King Lear has the look and feel of an epic in the tradition of Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, and though it has been given a Marxist slant, it is true to Shakespeare's vision. As the aging monarch confronts the wrongness of his own decision, he also realizes how little he has done to help others. "I've taken too little care of this", he laments as he confronts the suffering of his people. Faithfully accompanied by his shaven-headed Fool, Lear moves from a monarch blinded by his own arrogance in misjudging his children to a pitiful presence who finally discovers his own compassion and ultimately evokes ours.
- Assured and deeply moving treatment of Lear
Even, relaxed performances. Tasteful, non-intrusive direction. No gimmicks. And finally a clear, even obvious! result.
This might seem like damning with faint praise, except that Kozintsev has done what Brook didn't, what Olivier's BBC production didn't, and what every stage production I have ever seen resolutely and spectacularly failed to do. That is to create order and clarity and meaning within arguably the greatest and arguably the most difficult play ever written. It seems easy to do in Kosintsev's version, which is one of his great triumphs. see it
Directors:Grigori Kozintsev, Iosif Shapiro
Writers:Grigori Kozintsev, Boris Pasternak (Russian translation, 1949)
Jüri Järvet ... King Lear (as Yuri Yarvet)
Elza Radzina ... Goneril (as E. Radzina)
Galina Volchek ... Regan (as G. Volchek)
Valentina Shendrikova ... Cordelia (as V. Shendrikova)
Oleg Dal ... Fool (as O. Dal)
Karlis Sebris ... Gloster (as K. Sebris)
Leonhard Merzin ... Edgar (as L. Merzin)
Regimantas Adomaitis ... Edmund (as R. Adomaytis)
Vladimir Yemelyanov ... Kent (as V. Yemelyanov)
Aleksandr Vokach ... Cornwall (as A. Vokach)
Donatas Banionis ... Albany (as D. Banionis)
Aleksei Petrenko ... Oswald (as A. Petrenko)
Juozas Budraitis ... King of France (as I. Budraytis)
Runtime: 137 min Country: Soviet Union
Language: Russian with clear English subtitles.
Color: Black and White
This film may prove that Lear is too big for the stage.