Top positive review
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One of Shakespeare’s best - done beautifully!
on November 12, 2005
This was a beautiful adaptation of the play the Merchant of Venice. Actually being filmed in Venice and in some of the surrounding lush and marvelous historic buildings and palaces and having breathtaking, dramatic lighting and costumes gave the film a feeling of a work of art in and of itself.
The superstitious and evil anti-Semitic practices of the place and era are shown as well as Antonio’s part in the conspiracy to whisk away Shylock’s daughter and stolen property. This background information gave a realistic build up to Shylock’s agitated mental state and makes the audience understand when he later goes after his just and rightful pound of flesh with such vengeance. Al Pacino steals the show with his wonderful performance. When I first read the play in High School I thought the character cared more for his money than his daughter – but this performance by Pacino gives a much more believable view of the character’s relationship with his daughter, Jessica.
Shakespeare, is years ahead of his time, his great humanitarianism shines through in this play – women educating themselves and saving the day with their bravery and intellect, a black suitor received with warmth and humor during a time of slavery and racism, and a Jewish man shown as a person with feelings and self worth in a time when Jews were considered sub-human ‘dogs’ by the Christian majority.
Although a negative view of Christianity is depicted in the opening scene where Franciscan monks are shown using the actual words of Paul from the Bible and Martin Luther to bring to trial by drowning (if guilty) a Jewish man being charged with money lending as he is thrown into the Grande Canal. A more positive and inspiring view of Christianity is shown in the court scene where both the Duke and Antonio act mercifully to the unmerciful Shylock. The most famous part of the play, Portia’s ‘Quality of Mercy’ speech tells of mercy being an attribute of God. Shylock’s fellow red-hatted Jews in the court scene were depicted as being against the horrendous terms of the bond, hoping that Shylock would relent of his vengeance and chose mercy when he had the opportunity.
I think this film adaptation has done a wonderful job of promoting religious tolerance. There was fault on both sides and grace given by both sides – in the wrong hands this play could easily become a work of anti-Semitism, the only sour note was the forcing of Shylock to become Christian or forfeit his life. I imagine that Shakespeare himself had to walk a narrow line regarding religion or risk the consequences in his day.
Unfortunately the video has a lot of bare breasts and is therefore rated at “R” In Venice at that time it was decreed by law that all prostitutes were required to display their breasts in order to prevent young boys posing as women and participating in the business, so this was a historically accurate portrayal. This however may prevent high school students from seeing the movie, which is a shame as it would make an excellent background for the reading of the play as part of a language arts program.