Friday, May 22, 2015
2015 Cannes Marathon: Othello (1952)
(Co-Winner of the Palme d’Or w/ Two Cents Worth of Hope at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival)
Based on the play by William Shakespeare, Othello is the story of a Moorish general whose life unravels by the deceit of a jealous captain who is eager to destroy him. Directed and starring Orson Welles with a script by Welles and Jean Sacha, the film is an interpretation of the tragedy that plays into a man whose life of success and praise is destroyed by a man whose jealousy would undo many things. Also starring Micheal MacLiammoir, Suzanne Cloutier, and Robert Coote. Othello is a riveting and entrancing film from Orson Welles.
Set in Venice, the film revolves around a Moorish general who would succeed in the eyes of leaders as he would marry a senator’s daughter only to spur the jealousy and anger of an ensign who believes he had been passed over as he decides to destroy the life of Othello. It’s a film that isn’t just about deceit and hatred but also paranoia as the character of Othello would unravel by these lies created by the man who is jealous of him in Iago (Micheal MacLiammoir). The film’s screenplay by Orson Welles, with additional work from Jean Sacha, wouldn’t just explore Iago’s motivations but also in helping his friend Roderigo (Robert Coote) who is angry that Othello has managed to wed Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier) whom Roderigo had feelings for. By making Othello believe that Desdemona is having an affair with his lieutenant and close friend Cassio (Michael Laurence), Iago would set all of his plans in motion in ruining Othello’s life.
Orson Welles’ direction is quite stylish not just in its look and approach to compositions with the usage of slanted angles. It’s also in how he would present the drama as it was set in a large stage where he would use many locations such as Venice, Morocco, Rome, and Tuscany since it was filmed sporadically for three years. The film opens and ends with a funeral procession that is shot with a large degree of style as it relates to the tragedy of what would happen to Othello as it sets the everything in motion. Shooting on these different locations, Welles is able to make something that does feel quite grand on a visual scale while maintaining something that is intimate with his close-ups and medium shots. The way he would direct his actors in a setting would add to the theatricality of the film where he knows where to put them in the frame or how they would act out in a situation.
While there are elements in the film that are quite chaotic since it does relate to the sporadic shooting schedule due to financial reasons. It does have some charm into what Welles was trying to do as it has a sense of energy to the story. Even as there are flaws in the film such as the post-production sync where some of the dialogue that is spoken doesn’t match entirely with what the actors are saying. It plays into not just the film’s odd eccentric tone but also into the drama as it would intensify into its third act as it involves the full extent of Iago’s deceit that would eventually lead to Othello’s own downfall. Overall, Welles creates a very intoxicating and engrossing film about a man betrayed and deceived by a jealous man.
Cinematographers G.R. Aldo, Anchise Brizzi, George Fanto, Alberto Fusi, and Oberdan Troiani do amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography with its approach to lighting in the interiors and be able to match many of the different locations to make the film feel like it‘s in one place for the most part. Editors Jeno Csepreghy, Renzo Lucidi, William Morton, and Jean Sacha do superb work with the editing to bring in some stylish cuts from the usage of still images and other odd rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and the messiness of the production. Production designers Luigi Scaccianoce and Alexandre Trauner do fantastic work with the set design of the home of Othello and some of the characters to play into the intense period of the time as well as the castle where Othello runs his army.
Costume designer Maria De Matteis does nice work with the period clothes from the dress that Desdemona wears to the clothes of the men with their tights. The film’s music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino and Alberto Barberis is brilliant for its mixture of string-based folk instrument to play into some of the drama to the orchestral elements in the film that helps intensify the drama that occurs in the film.
The film’s phenomenal cast include some notable small roles from Doris Dowling as Cassio’s mistress Bianca, Hilton Edwards as Desdemona’s father Brabanito, Nicholas Bruce as Desdemona’s cousin Lodovico, and Fay Compton in a terrific performance as Iago’s lover and Desdemona’s caretaker Emilia who would have a scene-stealing moment in the film’s third act. Michael Laurence is superb as Cassio who is a loyal friend of Othello that becomes a victim of Iago’s deceit. Robert Coote is excellent as Roderigo who joins Iago in the plot against Othello in the hopes that he could claim Desdemona though much of his dialogue is dubbed by Welles.
Suzanne Cloutier is wonderful as Desdemona as Othello’s wife who is unaware of what is happening to him as she tries to convince him that she didn’t do anything wrong. Micheal McLiammoir is brilliant as Iago as an ensign who is angry that he’s been passed over as he would deceive and destroy Othello any way he can as MacLiammoir brings some charm and determination into his role. Finally, there’s Orson Welles in an amazing performance as Othello where Welles brings in that bravado and larger-than-life persona of the character but also has him display some humility to convey the vulnerability in the character.
Othello is a remarkable film from Orson Welles that features great performances from Welles and Micheal MacLiammoir. It’s a film that doesn’t just present one of William Shakespeare’s play into this study of tragedy and deceit into something that is very stylish. It also plays into Welles’ interest in man and how one could fall through petty jealousy and hatred. In the end, Othello is a sensational film from Orson Welles.
Orson Welles Films: Citizen Kane - The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming Othello – The Other Side of the Wind
Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - The Eyes of Orson Welles - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2
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