Macbeth (2015) | In Competition | Cannes 2015 |

May 23rd, 2015
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Justin Kurzel     Writer: Jacob Koskoff

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Paddy Considine, David Hayman

113min |Drama l UK|Australia

Kurasawa, Polanski and Welles have all put their mark on Shakespeare’s Scottish play with its bloody imagery and regal treachery, not to mention the dreaded witches, who bring with them “the filthy air” of ineffable evil striking the tone of sinister foreboding from the outset.  Set in a frighteningly bleak and hostile 16th century Scotland, Justin Kurzel’s glowering screen version is the follow-up to his 2011 debut thriller Snowtown, a breakout hit marking the Australian director as talent in the making.  Kurzel retains the 9th Century feel of feudalism  and danger here but adds some modern styling techniques to make this feel ‘de nos jours’. Judicious casting ensures a range of dynamite performances that, along with stylish sets and a really brooding tone,  Kurzel’s version is a worthwhile addition to the Shakespeare film canon for the Scottish play.

A brilliant pairing of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard ignites this production with a palpable onscreen chemistry; Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth controlling her lust for power both both sensually and emotionally, in a role infused with religious fervour, malicious intent, lustful longing and vulnerability: she appears to die of a broken heart, mourning her first child’s death and ruing the guilt of her treason. Kirzel crucially makes reference in the opening scene to the mossy funeral-byre of the Macbeth’s blue-tinged infant, laid to rest with shells placed over his eyes. The joint suffering permeates their relationship and they are seen as viscerally close: a sexual-charge always jolting their loving gaze.

Kurzel’s adaptation, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, stays fairly close the page with some exceptions – to be expected considering its less than two hour running time – although this is Shakespeare’s shortest play. The narrative consequently has a choppy feel but one omission in particular stands out, the scene with the drunken porter, that in the original play serves to inject much needed levity. This is the only criticism of Kurzel’s version: its monotone brooding which powers on relentlessly and without relief and the dramatic tension would certainly have benefited this light-hearted interlude, which Shakespeare introduced precisely for this reason.

That said, this sleek and pared-down adaptation with its modern sensibilities (Cotillard’s make-up brings to mind Bladerunner) also reflects a God-fearing nature of the era reflected in the religious motifs that run throughout and are shown in the costumes (Lady Macbeth wears shroud-like-calico and is decked in jewelled crosses) and are particularly resplendent in the interior castle scenes. The battle scenes are brutal and strikingly-evoked in slow-mo, to reflect a spectacular sense of place as haunting mists roll in and infiltrate the combat scenes, backlit with their crimson and lucozaid-tinged aesthetic.

The power-fuelled couple express every emotion with a full-throttled yet coldly-cloaked passion: Lady Macbeth is also seen as a religious woman who sets great store in the potent power of prayer. Fassbender grins seditiously and is encouraged by Cotillard’s sensual goading, bringing him to a climax of despotic fervour, as his sanity slowly evaporates despite occasional self-doubt “Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day”. Yet the pair retain a strange sense of their character’s humanity throughout. When Lady Macduff (Elizabeth Debicki) and her children are killed, we see them burning at the stake. Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth sheds a sympathetic tear in respect to her own bereavement and her own treachery. In the ghastly dagger scene, she holds court with a solomn soliloquy.

Sean Harris, is supremely sinister Macduff. David Thewlis, as good as ever, is a genuinely lordly Duncan, Paddy Considine superb as Banquo, all feel convincing characters rather than Shakespeare cut-outs. The whole thing reeks of fabulous negativity and regal evil. Thoroughly recommended. MT




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