King Lear (1987)

JEAN-LUC GODARD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA///, 1987. , . Screenplay by , , , . Cinematography by . Produced by , . Film Editing by Jean-Luc Godard. Toronto International Film Festival 1987.

If you show up thinking that the likes of Jean-Luc Godard is going to film a straightforward adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, you need to do your research before buying movie tickets.  Of course it’s a non-linear, sometimes exciting, sometimes exasperating, always visually compelling film in which King Lear is the starting off point for intelligent, somewhat navel-gazy ruminations on art and love.  The events of Chernobyl have laid humanity’s works of art to waste and a young descendant of Shakespeare (controversial opera director Peter Sellars) wanders the landscape searching to reclaim the poet’s words.  A gangster boss (some archetypes live long in Godard’s imagination) played by Burgess Meredith has a volatile relationship with his daughter Molly Ringwald, their dialogue reminding young Shakespeare of lines from Lear, and their relationship somewhat mirroring that of Cordelia and her monarch father in the play.  A very young Julie Delpy is also on hand, as is Godard himself as a version of the Fool but covered in television cables.  Norman Mailer makes an appearance early in the film and at the conclusion we get a shot of Woody Allen (named “Mr. Alien” here) as the director tasked with putting everything that has been assembled together in order to present the world.    A film famously financed by a contract between Godard and the boys of Cannon (Golan and Globus) that was reportedly written on a napkin at the Cannes Film Festival, this one’s more ample-than-usual budget (for Godard at this point in his career) contributes to beautiful widescreen cinematography, a rich and dynamic soundtrack and a narrative that only a producer could lose sleep over (though given that they decided to abandon it to a few arthouse theatres for a few days, it’s possible they didn’t lose any).  If you’re a fan of the maestro and are willing to let him tell you that there can be no art in the modern, post-apocalyptic world unless he allows it, you’ll be tickled, otherwise I’d advise steering clear.  Devotees of Ringwald will want to see her in something so very different than anything else she did in the eighties (and I include Tempest in that), particularly as she delivers surprisingly well.

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