I figured Tyler Perry owned this character and didn't figure that anyone else would make a Madea film, let alone, of all people, Lars von Trier... about four years before Perry's reportedly became active. Man, Lars von Trier is way too white for that joke to stand a chance at working, although that's not the reason why that joke is so discomforting. You know, even though everyone nowadays can't help but think about that when seeing this film's title, I feel kind of guilty about making a joke like that, because I just likened Tyler Perry to Lars von Trier, and likened a Madea film to Euripides's "Medea", even though that play is that good old-fashioned, pre-Christ type of theatrical melodrama. Yeah, if you people feel that Perry sugarcoats his histrionics a little too much, well, again, allow me to remind you that this is Lars von Trier's adaptation of Euripides' "Medea", so if it takes any kind of dramatic liberties, it's to push boundaries on how much you can disturb people... while still being clean enough to pass as a TV film. Shoot, this is European television, so I don't think anyone would have cared too much if this was one of von Trier's classic, near-pornographic shock dramas, and even if they did, this is specifically a Danish TV film, meaning that no one was going to watch it to begin with. Yup, von Trier had to take a break from all of those acclaimed art films that were all the rage at Cannes and head to television, and yet, he still couldn't get rid of Udo Kier, who in all fairness, probably shouldn't have ever gotten away from von Trier. Yeah, Kier would be lucky these days to get a mediocre TV movie like this, which, in all fairness, stands to be worse.
Whether they derive from television production funds or simply from questionable aspects to Lars von Trier's artistic vision, technical shortcomings stand firm, holding back style which still excels, thanks largely to cinematography by Sejr Brockmann that, despite the heavy analog grain, offers uniquely tasteful lighting and coloration which is sometimes haunting in its aesthetic, maybe even dramatic value. When style proves to be complimentary to, rather than prominent over substance, its effectiveness is driven, not by Brockmann's eye for visual beauty, but by von Trier's directorial eye for thoughtful dramatic storytelling, which, while near-tediously dry more often than not, has occasions of genuineness which are, in fact, effective. Directorial highlights are few and far between, but make no mistake, they are there, and the patient are sure to be endeared by them once they come into play, riding on the back of subject matter deserving of dramatic kicks. While thin enough in concept, and even thinner in plotting structure, the film's story has stood the test of time so firmly because it's pretty interesting on paper, with distinguished conflicts and tragic themes which may not open up a considerable amount of potential, considering the natural shortcomings and histrionics, but are still promising as attributes to a classic character study. When it comes to the execution of such weighty, character-driven subject matter, it's hard to argue that the most consistently effective strength in this film is the acting, which is not backed by too much challenging material, yet remains tasteful and naturalist enough to sell the depths of the characters whose internal struggles drive this film more than the storytellers. The film is misguided in more ways than we're used to in TV flicks, but at the same time, it's inspired in more ways than we're used to in TV flicks, with an artistic vision that, while overblown, is justified enough for the final product to at least earn some respect as a strong style piece and vehicle from highlights in strong dramatic performances, on and off of the screen. On the whole, however, the film falls startlingly flat, having its commendable aspects, and many more aspects that are misguided, perhaps even technically questionable.
As much as I give praise to Lars von Trier and cinematographer Sejr Brockmann for their salvaging a pretty solid visual style despite budgetary restraints, there's no way around the technical shortcomings that, when combined with von Trier's taste in analog filming, plague the film with an amateur, or at least television feel that probably can't be helped too much. What certainly cannot be helped are natural shortcomings in a narrative that, through all its meaty attributes which helped keep the story alive for many a century, is thin, and when the drama works to beef up, it's histrionic, in a way that could perhaps be embraced the same way it has been embraced since the inception of this Euripides tragedy if there was more development. The film ought to be driven by its characters, but no matter how hard the performers try, it's hard to get invested, as the characters go fleshed only so much, which shouldn't come as too big of a surprise, considering that the film, at a mere 76 minutes, without commercials, is so blasted short, seemingly abridged, not by an attempt to tighten up a TV production so that the Danes didn't miss the following program, but by a distinct lack of substance. For those thinking that von Trier would tone down his artistic ambitions in order to appeal to the Danish TV crowd, style is ultimately placed over substance, and no matter how intimate it may be as a character study, its human depths prove to be lacking, defusing momentum in a story that is conceptually to be driven by its characters and human core, not a style that is questionable by its own right to begin with. More than it is visual stylish, the film is narratively stylish, and not exactly in a worthy way, being intentionally disjointed and perhaps even rather abstractionist in its aimless progression, which pays little attention to development and ultimately stands as a startlingly short final product, but still takes time to drag its feet on and on and on, with barely any sense of plotting. No, it's plodding that really defines the film's storytelling, and that's really hard to forgive, although von Trier, as director, doesn't make matters any better, bringing back his classic thoughtful, perhaps even meditatively naturalist direction, which can work just fine, maybe even heavily when material kicks in, and, of course, doesn't really have a whole lot of material to work with, resulting in a punishingly dry dullness that is profound, yet still with one form of feeling: pretense. Von Trier is able to match his ambitions with enough inspiration for the film to not fall as contemptible in its arrogance, but at the end of the day, the film is tedious, and while I can't say that I hate it, I cannot deny that it comes pretty close to disaster as a misguided and cold misfire.
In the end, fine tastes in style, some highlights in direction, and plenty of strong performances drive worthy subject matter and provide glimpses of a much better film, ultimately obscured by technical shortcomings, considerable developmental limitations, a disjointed and aimlessly draggy storytelling style, and tediously dry direction, which ultimately crush Lars von Trier's "Medea", maybe not as contemptible, but certainly as a messy abuse of an artistic license that you'd figure would be more limited by television filmmaking sensibilities.
2/5 - Weak