Monday, 21 February 2011

Grigori Kozintsev: King Lear - Король Лир (1971)

Король Лир (1970)

Directed by Grigori Kozintsev, Iosif Shapiro.
Starring Jüri Järvet, Elza Radzina, Galina Volchek.
Running Time - 139 minutes
Release date in the Soviet Union - February 8, 1971


Long considered one of the greatest versions of Shakespeare ever captured on film, Grigori Kozintsev's gripping version of King Lear bears out the pedigree of the artists involved - the great Russian film director Grigori Kozintsev, working with a Russian translation of King Lear by Boris Pasternak, with original music by Dmitri Shostakovich, and a cast of Baltic actors burning with intensity and humanity. The Russian film of King Lear provides numerous unforgetable scenes from the grand entrance of Lear to divide his kingdom, to the final muddy battlefield and the haunting vision of Lear cradling the dead Cordelia. Kozintsev had previously directed a stage version of King Lear in 1941 in a Russian translation by Pasternak, author of Doctor Zivago, but the Second World War erupted and Kozintsev turned to film. He made a series of propaganda films about the great Soviet revolutionary hero Maxim and then after Stalin's death returned to experimenting with classics including Don Quixote (1957). Kozintsev's film of Hamlet (1963) won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and Laurence Olivier called his Hamlet the best ever. Dmitri Shostakovich's film score is indelibly linked with the action, providing musical swirls of darkness. As Kozintsev wrote, ' In Shostakovich's music I can hear a ferocious hatred of cruelty, the cult of power and the oppression of justice...a fearless goodness which has a threatening quality.' Kozintsev cast actors from the Baltic states to focus on their chiselled facial features and magnetic eyes. Having had difficulty casting the main part of King Lear, Kozintsev called in the Estonian actor who was cast as Poor Tom - Juri Jarvet. As Kozintsev recalls in his diary of the making of the film, King Lear : The Space of Tragedy, 'I was full of admiration for Jarvet's way of walking. He moved forward with a sort of clumsy ceremony, with grandiose steps...Jarvet has a sinewy, wiry body, with enormous peasant's hands. He is just like everyone else, and first among other men.' Both Jarvet and Donatas Banionis were to star in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris the following year. Unfortunately King Lear was Kozintsev's final film. As Peter Brook wrote to Kozintsev, 'I remember in your Hamlet and in your King Lear, your searching for truths about man's condition and your wish to speak through your art about one subject only: about humanity - no more, no less.' Grigori Kozintsev's King Lear is available on DVD. ...

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