Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lancelot of the Lake

*Bresson *85m *1974 *France *

Though loosely based on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, this is actually a very modern spirited presentstion of sordid court politics. It has been rightly compared to Shakespeare and in fact in it's mood of corruption and decay it comes close to Macbeth. Shakespeare, for that matter, is as modern as they come.

The film opens in a rampage of killing and corpses as the redoubtable knights traverse hill and dale in search of the Holy Grail, a biblical relic possessing magical powers. What was supposed to be a sacred mission has turned into mayhem. They return from their futile quest to Arthur's court after two years, decimated in numbers and broken in spirit. The seamy affair of Lancelot and  Guinevere resumes, with Lancelot trying to wriggle out of it, convinced that the misfortunes that have befallen the state are a result of  this sin. The queen refuses to let him go, with appropriate arguments. Lancelot's arch political rival Mordred wants to take advantage of  this, which leads us to a tournament, the centrepiece of the film.

Bresson's usual style of non-acting and extreme understatement is very much evident , with the difference that the black and white of earlier films has given way to shades of brown and red with yellow light pouring through in patches--a noire film in deep dark shades. The dialog seeps through the orifices in helmets in monosyllabic monotones and everybody looks more or less the same in their metal uniforms--"interchangeable clunking clones" as Ebert beautifully expressed it in reviewing another film based on the same legend.

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