International movies: Shakespeare!

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This is the time of Shakespeare! Or is it…? Well to me it is, as I am currently in an incredible play: Othello, A Woman’s Story, an all-female contemporary adaptation of the famous tragedy, and this time it is set in a prison!

Being in this play was an excellent opportunity for me to learn how to tackle a supporting role, and it triggered my interest for Shakespeare. The man has inspired some amazing adaptations throughout the ages and the places…from Orson Welles’ Falstaff to Gil Junger’s 10 things I hate about you! And with no surprise, I am gladly introducing you to some international masterpieces which would have never existed if it weren’t for him (or her... maybe Shakespeare was a woman after all?).


RAN

  RAN - When warlord Hidetora Ichimonji passes his power to his eldest son, his entire values and life achievements fall apart in a soumptuously tragic manner.

RAN - When warlord Hidetora Ichimonji passes his power to his eldest son, his entire values and life achievements fall apart in a soumptuously tragic manner.

If you haven’t watched a Kurosawa movie yet, I absolutely urge you to! This legendary Japanese director (The Seven Samourai, Ikiru, and many more) has inspired Asian and Western cinema since the 1950s. In his 1985 multi-awarded movie Ran, Kurosawa pays tribute to Shakespeare’s King Lear. This French-Japanese production follows warlord Hidetora Ichimonji’s tragic fall after he decides to pass most of his power to the eldest of his three sons.

This Japanese depiction of the British tragedy is not just interesting because it transposes the themes of Shakespeare in a completely different setting, it also gives it a new light. The stillness and respect for nature of the Japanese culture allow for the story to expand through breathtaking landscapes and long scenes of peace or violence, hence providing a new dimension to the universal themes of power, greed and betrayal.  I was personally particularly moved by the reflection on family relationships and the roles of the three brothers throughout the story – again, a universal topic which can be translated to any nation.

Finally, if you watch Ran, you will be in awe in front of the incredible cinematography of the piece. The famous war scene is one of the most analysed in movie history, thanks to its grandiose esthetics as well as its surprising music, which inspired no less than Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Just to give you an idea about this movie’s ambitions, it took ten years for Kurosawa to paint Ran’s storyboard. Oh, and do you know why the movie is called “Ran”? It mean “Chaos”.

Reasons to watch:

  • Breathtaking visuals and Tarantino-inspiring iconic scenes

  • Reflections on power, greed, betrayal and relationships

  • Shakespeare is ageless!


OMKARA

  OMKARA: A well thought, subtle and endearing Indian adaptation of  Othello .

OMKARA: A well thought, subtle and endearing Indian adaptation of Othello.

Who said Bollywood wasn’t breading good movies? Omkara is a 2006 adaption of Othello, taking place in contemporary India. Omkara – in place of Othello – is the respected head of a small town  but he’s a half-caste which is problematic to some. More importantly, he chooses Kesu (in place of Cassio)  as his second, over Langda (Iago), believing that Kesu’s connections will allow him to win the next elections, and relying on Langda’s loyalty to understand this political move...which doesn’t happen, as Langda decides to get revenge.

Something I found extremely interesting about this Othello adaptation is how smartly the characters’ motives and dynamics were designed. While Iago is pretty much depicted as purely evil (or at the very least completely consumed by his jealousy) in the Shakespeare play, Saif Ali Khan’s interpretation of Iago gives plenty of room for self doubts. The story design itself was slightly altered to make the intrigue more realistic in a film setting, all for the best! As the interpreter of courtisane Bianca, I also adored how this character is celebrated as a strong, independent woman (which is clear in the original play), as opposed to many other interpretations where her character was cut to a glorified narrative prop.

Omkara, one of the few contemporary film adaptations of an Shakespearien play, is one of the most interesting remades of a tragedy I’ve seen to date. The actors are stellar, the film plays with the Bollywood codes whilst delivering a subtle narrative…really, this is (b)ollywood at its best!

Reasons to watch:

  • One of Shakespeare's first contemporary adaptations

  • An excellent introduction to India's narrative

  • Excellent women characters depiction


ROMEO+JULIET

  ROMEO+JULIET: Sex, drugs, parties, romance and tragedy in a resolutely West coast pop-art setting.

ROMEO+JULIET: Sex, drugs, parties, romance and tragedy in a resolutely West coast pop-art setting.

Romeo+Juliet is technically a Hollywood movie, so I'm breaching my personal contract of only writing about non-Hollywood, international movies...however the director Baz Luhrmann is Australian, so let's say it doesn't count...and I'm doing it for the love of the art! Indeed, I felt a personal obligation to mention this movie as it represented my first personal exposure to Shakespeare (and more importantly to the music of legendary Prince!).

Growing up in France,  we were surprinsingly not encouraged to read Shakespeare - to this day I clearly remember my dentist's comment when she saw me coming to an appointment with Hamlet in my hands: '"Don't you think we have enough good French literature already?"... So, while Shakespeare was well-known as an author, I hadn't really been exposed to his literature until I watched the completely funky Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Not only was I entertained and moved by the movie and its topics, but it also made me more familiar with Shakespeare's themes. 

On top of that, Romeo+Juliet is an incredible experience for a viewer, as the colors and the style are completely OTT in the best way possible! I loved the costumes, the colors, the party, everything felt dreamy and surreal as I had never seen a film like that. So much so that I was full of defense mechanisms and kept wondering why all these things were done, instead of simply enjoying them. I do remember though how much I adored the curveball of the TV host, introducing and conclusing the story both at the beginning and the end of the play...erm movie. Funny enough, I only realized that the characters were speaking in ancient English years after first watching the movie.

Embarrassingly, I also remember being slightly surprised that the mayor of Verona was a Black man and asking my bigger sister for explanations...talk about the importance of minority representation in films! To be fair, I was also very surprised that such a modern priest could exist... I am glad that these days are over for me - and slightly confused to realize how much I've changed! Bottomline is: Romeo+Juliet was groundbreaking, and the crazy alliance of pop culture and Shakespeare make for the most awesome fireworks! Watch or rewatch it without moderation!

Reasons to watch:

  • Sex, drugs and parties on the menu!

  • A fantastic tribute to the 1990s West Coast

  • Virtuosity in breaking all the rules


If you want to learn more about contemporary Shakespeare adaptations, here's a great sample of easy-watch movies which also pay tribute to Shakespeare. Incredible, how much he's still inspiring us, isn't it? 

Also, feel free to learn more about the Othello play I'm currently in!


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