Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

WORLD CINEMA

Festivals

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Venice 2007: Cleopatra

Cleopatra has been filmed earlier, and one that remains etched in memory is the 1963 version where Elizabeth Taylor immortalized the Queen of Egypt. That movie made history for all the wrong reasons: 20th Century Fox went bankrupt, Taylor fell seriously ill and had to be rushed to hospital, and later she began an affair with Richard Burton that caused a scandal and outraged moralists. Yet, there is no denying that it was this “Cleopatra”, helmed by Joseph Mankiewicz, which still sparkles, and Taylor remains as enigmatic as the Egyptian Queen herself.

So Brazilian director Julio Bressane’s decision to recreate an equally mysterious Cleopatra could not have been easy. But as he says he had one great plus point to begin with. It would be the first time that Cleopatra would be made in
Taylor as Cleopatra
Portuguese. Bressane’s “Cleopatra”, screened at the Venice Film Festival, does not disappoint, at least not totally, though it is nowhere as impressive as the one made famous by Taylor, Burton and Rex Harrison. Undoubtedly Bressane’ scoring point is the movie’s eroticism, which may appeal to non-discerning audiences in the commercial circuit.

“Cleopatra” opens with the shot of Pompey’s decapitated head, the only gruesome scene in the entire film, which continues to tell the story of the Queen (Alessandra Negrini), concentrating mostly on her relationship with Julius Caesar (Miguel Falabella). Mark Anthony’s (Bruno Garcia) scenes are not many, and come towards the end. Obviously, Bressane’s interest lies elsewhere.

He uses lyrics to convey Cleopatra’s struggles to stay in control of the Ptolemaic Dynasty that Alexander founded 300 years earlier and whose riches are coveted by the bankrupt Romans.

In Bressane’s version, the language constructs the image, and he uses poetry to create the imagery. And as the helmer said, the strength of the Portuguese language is its lyricism. This, in effect, becomes the movie’s high point, and the legend of Cleopatra unfolds through the nuances of Portuguese literature, music and culture. Negrini’s erotic movements, some times in dance like motions, have been splendidly choreographed to Guilherme Vaz’ score. The tale of love and war, of hope and regret and of joy and angst comes through almost in a mellifluous manner

However, “Cleopatra” is all theatre and little cinema. It could well be a ballet with a camera capturing it all, and the drama happens mostly indoors, except for one brilliant scene by the seaside.

(Webposted September 19 2007)