May 15, 2022 6:46 pm

What I see? With The Tragedy of Macbeth, Joel Coen made a masterful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s work

The tragedy of Macbeth (The Tragedy of Macbeth/2021). Direction and script: Joel Coen, based on the play by William Shakespeare. Photography: Bruno Delbonnel. Edition: Lucian Johnston, Reginald Jaynes. Music: Carter Burwell. List: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Kathryn Hunter, Corey Hawkins. Available in: Apple TV+. Our opinion: very good.

After an arduous trek through the snow in a deserted Chicago, Llewyn Davis sits down before an undaunted Bud Grossman with his only guitar for company. The musician interprets a beautiful rendition of “The Death of Queen Jane” and, nevertheless, that man who listens to him, in whose hands he deposits all his hope of success, does not believe that there is anything special in what he is interpreting. That harsh climate awaits that troubadour at the exit while he tries to protect himself from the cold. Llewyn Davis is alone in the snow. Llewyn Davis is alone in a world from which he expects more than it is willing to give him. He considers, in reality, that everyone owes him something. That it is time to wake up from lethargy.

Llewyn Davis is more than the protagonist of Ballad of a common man, the 2013 film written and directed by the Coens brothers: is an exponent of a long line of characters who, bordering on pathos (much has been said about filmmakers as nihilists who look at their characters from a pedestal), collide with the inevitable. We already saw him in one of his great productions, Fargo, with Jerry Lundegaard’s failed execution of the plan that was always destined to fail. And we also saw it in A serious man with “Larry” Gopnik. Examples abound, and The tragedy of Macbeth despite being somewhat dissonant with the filmography of the brothers (after all, the feature film was written and directed by Joel alone), take the work of William Shakespeare to revisit those worlds where individuals become prey to their own ambition.

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in The Tragedy of Macbeth

One of the great surprises of Coen’s brand-new film, available on the Apple TV+ streaming platform, is how the director was able to conceive an organic work within his corpus authorial, but never appealing to that tragicomedy present in, for example, Burn after reading. That is to say, Shakespeare’s work is transposed with an admirable precision that reminds, in a certain way, of what the great Orson Welles had done in 1948. Thus, we immediately meet the witches (an extraordinary work of Kathryn Hunter), those in charge of wondering which doors will remain safe when the wind blows from all sides, a harbinger of the inevitable fall of the Scottish general Macbeth (Denzel Washington), who gets the crown after the initial omen. The introduction of said witches and each familiar character (from Banquo to the finisher, Macduff) is simply stunning.

The pieces of this chess appear in the middle of a thick fog, or with the use of chiaroscuro by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (a regular collaborator with the Coens, and a key figure in Ballad of a common man) progressively marking the way to the tragedy of the title, one in which, in the words of Shakespeare, “the calm and frantic man” coexists with “the loyal and indifferent one”.

Kathryn Hunter, exceptional in Joel Coen's film
Kathryn Hunter, exceptional in Joel Coen’s film

In this sense, Washington is the perfect Macbeth to personify all those faces of the clouded man in that labyrinth where he betrays and reoffends, and where he is also persecuted for his aberrant actions. As to Frances McDormand, Another great success of Coen is not to fall into the common place when it comes to depicting the persuasive nature of Lady Macbeth, ready to snatch any benevolent glimpse of her husband, but to give him greater prominence in more poetic sequences where the actress – in a very good choice of interpretation- breaks with the harmonic structure of an ascetic production by attributing (for the internal logic of this film) a certain modernity to its movements. Therefore, the sequence of the night walk of the sleepwalking woman (in a castle already turned into a suffocating box in which there is nothing to hold on to in the descent into madness) is the most frightening and remarkable of the series. film, a real technical feat.

The tragedy of Macbeth seeks to achieve perfection but with pretentiousness as a well understood quality, and this becomes evident from the sound aspect, both with the opening and closing of doors of a blinded Macbeth and with the firm footstep of Fleance’s horse that marks, like those other footsteps, those that open the film, the nonsense of so much spilled blood.

When and where to see it. The tragedy of Macbeth is now available on Apple TV +.

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