'Macbeth' is the first jewel of 2022: Joel Coen molds the Shakespearean classic under the extraordinary monochrome gaze of Bruno
When a filmmaker ventures to adapt source material that has been tackled many times before for the big screen, the only card he can confidently play to captivate a potential audience that knows the story well enough is that of innovation . Betting on looking back solely and exclusively to distance yourself from titles that could become dangerous references to unconsciously imitate.
The creation of William Shakespeare, and more specifically his timeless 'The Tragedy of Macbeth', is a magnificent example of how a play with four centuries of history can keep its appeal and capacity for fascination intact after being shaped and filtered through the primaries particulars of authors such as Orson Welles, Roman Polanski, Béla Tarr or Akira Kurosawa.
Now, more than a hundred years after the first translations of the Bard of Avon's text into the cinematographic medium came to light, Joel Coen makes his solo debut with 'Macbeth' ; an exercise in exceptional style in which theater and cinema converge under the overwhelming strength of their performances and the hypnotic power of Bruno Delbonnel's monochrome photography .
The opening shot of 'Macbeth' perfectly defines the atmosphere and emotional state through which its precise and tight 105-minute run takes place . A dense fog fills the screen, only altered by the flight of a raven for a few moments in which it is almost impossible to discern if the camera is pointing at the sky or if, as it is revealed at the last moment, it is directing its gaze towards the ground.
This short passage, almost a declaration of intent, beyond its apparent conceptual simplicity and its exquisite craftsmanship, immerses the viewer in the peculiar nightmarish, disconcerting and gloomy universe in which the film takes place and which intoxicates the minds of its protagonists; bringing Shakespeare's work closer than ever to a horror genre that appeals directly to the classics of German expressionism.
Drinking from sources such as Murnau, Dreyer or Lang and respecting the verses published in 1623, Joel Coen balances epic and contention , contrasts the large scale with care for detail and succeeds in making coexist the show worthy of the best equipped movie theater that we can imagine with a pristine and surprisingly agile narrative, raised to the maximum exponent by the overwhelming performances of Frances McDormand and, above all, of a huge Denzel Washington.
There is no doubt that the bulk of the target to which 'Macbeth' is directed will be fully aware of its plot intricacies, but the feature film manages to overcome this and cast a spell over the audience, inviting them to observe each frame without blinking, almost with an unhealthy morbidity , thanks to the aforementioned interpretive intensity and, above all, its great secret weapon: Bruno Delbonnel's brilliant cinematography.
In the same way that Justin Kurzel hypervitaminized his 2015 'Macbeth' through the fantastic work of his PDO Adam Arkapaw, Joel Coen has extracted every last drop of Delbonnel's talent, with whom he already worked on 'About Lewyn Davis' and 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' , to transform the film into an audiovisual experience to return to a thousand times after viewing it .
The Frenchman, squeezing every last drop from a top-level production design that opts for set construction and discards the use of real locations, has brought together the best of the seventh art and theater, photographing 'Macbeth' in color for, then convert the material to black and white in post production ; gaining scope to manipulate color curves for a captivating monochrome look.
Digital sensors, has made it possible to project tremendously rich gray scales full of nuances, translated into scenes that vary from the harshest and most contrasted chiaroscuro inherited from theatrical lighting, to the foggy diffusion of the Scottish exteriors ; always without losing an iota of the scenic will of the whole.
The cinematographic factor, in addition to a relentless editing cadence —and however anachronistic it may sound in the middle of 2022—, comes from the hand of the aspect ratio of 1.19: 1 ; a ratio close to the perfect square —recently seen in 'The lighthouse' by Robert Eggers—, which enhances the close-ups and, along with them, the emotion, by making the faces occupy the vast majority of the frame, eliminating any distraction in the side margins.
With 'Macbeth' we not only receive the first great film of the year , but a new disappointment in terms of current distribution and exhibition models. And it is that this little jewel, worthy of being enjoyed in the suggestive darkness of a stalls, has been relegated to domestic consumption by the grace and work of streaming; redoubt of a cinema unfairly condemned to ostracism in times of multimillion-dollar events and shared universes.
'Macbeth' will be available on Apple TV + from January 14, 2022