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
Ends with the quote: "Human life is a journey in the dark where only a God can find the way. That which nobody dares believe, God can make happen."
An interesting Von Trier film.
'Medea (von Trier, 1988)' is, at its heart, the tale of a woman scorned - and the revenge she enacts. Medea (Kirsten Olesen) and her two children are abandoned by her husband and their father, Jason (Udo Kier). He seeks the hand of the king's daughter, Glauce (Ludmilla Glinska). Fearing Medea's witchcraft, she is banished.
But this is a woman who is not willing to leave quietly, and resolves to bring destroy everything Jason holds dear. She begins by poisoning the king and his daughter, before hanging her own two children. Jason is left alone with his grief, while Medea leaves quietly. It's a compelling story with a powerful punch.
Yet in the hands of von Trier, it's so much more than a simple revenge tale. The frame is carefully filled with simply stunning shots, serving as an awe-inspiring backdrop for these characters. Certain scenes play out quietly as calculated rage is built. Von Trier allows the story to be told in edits and selected shots, highlighted most particularly in demonstrating Jason's wordless grief. With such a simple and linear story, von Trier really does an admirable job in bringing the events to life.
However, there is one crucial element sorely missing. It is easy to get caught up in the beauty of the film and in von Trier's film-making ability, but the story just doesn't hold up well over the seventy-five minute runtime. As simple and linear as the story is, at times the plot feels overwrought. The characters lack humanity, players in this macabre tale and on a collision course with destiny, powerless to intervene, and sorely missing any real cause for concern. Medea quietly deals with her rage, Jason ignorant to the revenge she is plotting, and what should be the most powerful scene - that of Medea hanging her own children - lacks any weight or emotion.
There is a distinct lack of compassion for Medea, and no sympathy for Jason. Without this emotion, the film doesn't end with a bang but a whimper. It's almost as if von Trier is afraid of pushing things too far, which as anyone familiar with his more recent work will be aware is a most bizarre statement to attach to von Trier. At times, the sparse plot is so dragged out that the movie actually borderlines on inducing boredom.
As interesting as the story is, it really isn't handled well by von Trier. Although he proves to be more than efficient behind the camera, he fails to give the story the amount of care and attention it is due. For purists, it is worth checking out - especially to see the way he handles Medea's character. Rarely does von Trier approach a female character with such ambivalence, often relishing in putting them through ordeals. Compared to some of von Trier's later victims, Medea gets off comparatively lightly. But for those unfamiliar with von Trier's work, this is not the best of places to start. One would be forgiven for thinking he was a distinctly average storyteller after witnessing this movie - an observation his other movies quickly disprove.
date viewed: 6/5/10
cons: play this is based on finished third out of three in 431 BC contest. protagonist has issues.
pros: nobody remembers the first and second place finishers, let alone still makes movies with them as their basis. great acting, unique visual style.....
recommendation: thumbs up....even though you may find it uncomfortable to watch.