Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Roger Ebert's review
Coriolanus (directed by Ralph Fiennes, screenplay by John Logan) though filmed in contemporary Serbia including its capital Belgrade and Montenegro (also of former Yugoslavia) and certainly filmed with the intention of referencing the recent conflicts there, is based on and quite faithful to the play Coriolanus by William Shakespeare about the legendary figure Gaius Marcius Coriolanus from ancient Rome's Republican Era.
Why would a play by William Shakespeare about a legendary general from the Roman Republic era set in contemporary Serbia "work" as a film?
Giaus Marcius (played in the film by Ralph Fiennes) was a gruff, "blood and guts" Roman "war hero," who returns at the beginning of the story to Rome in glory after defeating an invading force led by Tallus Aufindus (played by Gerard Butler) of the "barbarian" Volschian people. Upon his return, he is triumphantly given the title Coriolanus by the head of the Roman army General Cominius (played by John Kani). Encouraged by his family and friends, notably by his mentor/promoter Senator Menenius (played by Brian Cox) and mother Volumnia (played by Vanessa Redgrave) with his wife Virgilia (played by Jessica Chastain) and young son on board as well, Coriolanus is persuaded to seek becoming Consul of Rome (basically the President).
This, however, produces a backlash. While apparently very popular among the elite (the Roman Patrician class), among the lower classes of Rome (the Plebes) Coriolanus is seen less a "war hero" than an oppressor and arguably a war criminal. Since alliances among the elites Patricians are always precarious and full of intrigue, a number of Tribunes, Brutus (played by Paul Jessen) and Sicinius (played by James Nesbitt), take advantage of the Plebian discontent to thwart any aspirations of making Coriolanus Consul. Instead conspire to drive him into exile, banishing him for being a dangerous man.
Betrayed by his country after having save it, Coriolanus makes his way to Atrium, the capital of Volschians. There he makes peace with his old rival Tallus Aufindus and offers to join with him and destroy Rome in revenge. Soon, the Volschian army, led by the two, is on the march and no one can stop them. Desperate, Rome sends Coriolanus' family -- mother, wife and boy son -- to Corliolanus to persuade him to not take his vengeance on Rome. Yet, he's already made promises to the Volschian army as well. What's he supposed to do?
I do think that the story does "work" somewhat in former Yugoslavia because of the traumas of the recent conflicts there, where often "war heroes" also became war criminals and large numbers of common people on all sides (today's plebes of the former Yugoslav republics) were left feeling used and betrayed by everybody.
Coriolanus however is above all a "soldier's tale." My problem with the application of the story of Coriolanus to the recent conflicts in former Yugoslavia is that a fair number of war criminals from those conflicts who sit now locked-up in the Hague could be handed excuses by this play (and its application here) to say "We're the Coriolanuses of our time." No.
If you lined-up civilians and shot them (or ordered civilians to be lined-up and shot), then you don't deserve to be considered "war heroes." Instead, you are war criminals.
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