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November 26, 2005

Siberian Lady Macbeth

Sibirska Ledi Magbet
Andrzej Wajda - 1961
Kino Video DVD

According to the Internet Movie Data Base, there are over 600 movies based on the plays of William Shakespeare, directly or indirectly. Several of the films were done by Orson Welles who based a substantial part of his career on the Bard. While I knew about Sci-Fi Shakespeare, Cowboy Shakespeare, and Punk Shakespeare, I even found Horror Movie Shakespeare and Porno Shakespeare. I've seen several films that were either based on the "Scottish play", including films by Kurosawa and Polanski. The play also inspired a comedy about small town ambitions.

If Shakespeare was one reason to check out this movie, Andrzej Wajda was the other incentive. I had seen two of his classic films, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, as well as his later films made during the advent of Solidarity, such as Man of Iron. Seeing his version of Macbeth was another step in filling in the gaps I have regarding one of Poland's greatest filmmakers. What I hadn't anticipated is that while this film announces its Shakespearean source in the title, the other inspiration is clearly James M. Cain.

Officially, Wajda made an adaptation of the Dimitri Shostakovich opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The songs were eliminated while the musical themes remained. Katerina is an unhappy wife of a prosperous peasant. A serf, Sergei, shows up looking for work. Katerina's boorish father-in-law hires the man to be a swineherd. Barely settled on the farm, Sergei flirts with Katerina. Pure animal passion follows, with the two making John Garfield and Lana Turner look like a model of decorum. Unlike Turner or Barbara Stanwyck, Katerina does the actual heavy lifting in dispatching her husband and father-in-law. Like in Cain's novels, the characters' greed leaves them with nothing in the end. Even some of the interior shots suggest Film Noir.

Wajda has an official website where he discusses Siberian Lady Macbeth. This is a film that the critics admired, but that the filmmaker found wanting. While not quite on the level of John Ford, Wajda's exterior shots are worth mentioning for conveying hostile environments, with the farm seemingly adrift in a sea of fog, and close-ups of bare feet marching on rock, snow and mud to Siberia. The story makes a brief nod to Richard III and is titled after Shakespeare's woman who would be queen. By the end of the film, Katerina made me think of another tragic character of film and literature, Mildred Pierce.

Posted by peter at November 26, 2005 03:41 PM