Thursday, February 5, 2009

Medea (1988)

[Image: Medea, 1862, Eugène Delacroix, GNU Free Documentation License]

The other day, I watched Lars von Trier's 1988 version of Euripides's play - Medea.

I can never make up my mind when it comes to von Trier's work. I really enjoyed The Five Obstructions, and I found the few episodes that I watched of The Kingdom to be both haunting and surreal (and infinitely better than the dumbed-down Stephen King remake). Dogville was powerful, but sadistic and exhausting... and the whole Dogme 95 idea was never really my cup of tea. Sometimes the constraints von Trier places on his film-making seem to distract from the actual films themselves.

Having said that, von Trier clearly has the ability to make outstanding films when he puts his mind to it, and that is certainly what he's done with Medea. The film tells the story of the eponymous Medea, a witch who falls in love with Jason (he of Argonauts fame) and helps him complete his quest for the golden fleece and return home to Iolcos safely. The story begins after Jason has abandoned Medea at Corinth with their two children, and is about to marry King Creon's daughter in order to become heir to the throne of Corinth.

Until Medea, none of the movies I had watched based on ancient Greek myth had managed to properly match my idea of the flawed Greek hero. Clash of the Titans, The Odyssey and Jason and the Argonauts all interpreted "heroic" to mean brave and noble (although Odysseus in the 1997 version of The Odyssey was somewhat jaded). Jason in Medea, however, is scum. A young Udo Kier plays Jason with a quiet intensity so fierce that he looks borderline sociopathic.

Kirsten Olesen, also, is perfectly cast in the role of Medea. There's something weird and terrifying about her, in her black dress and skullcap, even when all she's doing is skulking about in a swamp gathering berries. And somehow (despite the appalling lengths she goes to for revenge) Olesen manages to play her as a sympathetic character.

The actors, then, do a fantastic job. But the stage they work upon is equally impressive. Throughout Medea, the cinematography is nothing short of stunning. The weather seems determined to drown and batter into total submission everything it comes across before the movie ends, with fog, rain and constant, overpowering wind screaming through each and every scene. The only time the elements take a break and the sun comes out is during the climax of the film, as Medea commits her terrible crime.

In my Greek cultural odyssey, this movie has set the benchmark.

A puzzling one, that von Trier chap...

Rating - 10 out of 12
Review Criteria

No comments: