It is a story “full of noise and fury”. A tale of inordinate ambition, of treacherous calculation and betrayal, of madness and blood too. It is a work of such darkness that the people of the theater, by superstition, fear to call it by its name, preferring the “Scottish play” as a designation. It is, we will have understood, of Macbeth, de Shakespeare.
Adapted many times to the cinema, here it is reborn with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as a couple cursed by her own fault.
Written and directed solo by Joel Coen after his brother and lifelong collaborator Ethan Coen signaled his desire to get away from the cinema, The Tragedy of Macbeth (VO) returns to the black and white photo direction of The Man Who Wasn’t There (The man who wasn’t there, 2001), a superb tribute to the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s, a genre that is particularly fond of the duo who began in the profession with the neo-noir Blood Simple (1984).
However, it is more on the side of horror films from the 1930s to the Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931) et Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) that looks The Tragedy of Macbeth.
With its artificiality mixed with expressionism and its exterior scenes designed to look like shot in a studio, the film often summons the memory of these Hollywood precursors in matters of horror and Gothic (Coen goes there in a snap. at Rebecca, of Hitchcock, the time of a wide shot where the hairstyle of Frances McDormand, identical to that of Judith Anderson, perfects the illusion).
As it happens, Coen embraces the play’s supernatural overtones, treating some of them with inspired literality. For example, the three witches who prophesy to Macbeth that he will become king are here embodied by a single actress: Kathryn Hunter (Arabella Figg in the fifth installment of the saga Harry Potter).
When the protagonist meets her, she stands in front of a puddle of water where her reflection is doubled, for three figures in all. Then here is where the two shapes disappear from the shimmering surface and materialize alongside their sister …
Such images, beautiful, terrible, follow one another, each more bewitching than the previous one. Imbued with a discreet modernism through the costumes, the reconstruction of the Middle Ages reinforces the factitious dimension of the film while endowing it with grace and timelessness.
A timelessness, for the account, which reaffirms the presence of Washington and McDormand, immense in Lord and Lady Macbeth.
Both in their sixties, they succeed much younger performers in previous adaptations: Orson Welles and Jeanette Nolan in 1948, Jon Finch and Francesca Annis in 1971, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in 2010… The film gains in originality as much that in depth.
Indeed, a feeling of bitterness of a violence that only the weight of the years can have nourished embraces the bloodthirsty spouses when they hatch their plan to usurp the throne. Their machinations take on an unprecedented desperate character.
Counting and greatness
Not seeking to redo what has already been done by other filmmakers (Welles, Polanski, Kurosawa, in particular), Coen opts for a narrative and formal stripping which nonetheless leads to a grandiose vision.
Regarding the story first, the screenwriter and director kept only the backbone and nerves of the original plot while respecting the text itself. The result, despite the stylization inherent in the Shakespearean verb, a striking immediacy, which is amplified by occasional glances at the camera.
As for the form, it maintains the action in a sort of uncluttered non-place surrounded by sometimes opaque, sometimes diffuse shadows.
We recognize the different rooms of a castle (superb artistic conception by Stefan Dechant), but reduced to their simplest expression, that is to say pure lines enhanced by this sublime black and white photo direction by Bruno Delbonnel (Faust), mentioned at the outset. High visual contrasts, therefore, for this “story full of noise and fury”, to quote Macbeth again.
Although it is undoubtedly the complete reply that Joel Coen had in mind when conceiving his adaptation, namely: “Life is only a passing shadow, a poor actor who struts and fidgets during his hour on the scene and then we no longer hear. It’s a story told by an idiot, full of noise and fury, and meaning nothing. “
His film is basically just that: a series of changing shadows in which characters move in vain, until the tragic, in search of meaning. And it is magnificent.