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Umberto Eco's novel has something of a reputation as one of the great
unread bestsellers. To have it on the shelf in the early eighties was a
fashion statement as much as it was a literary necessity. And yet when
the film was released, it was attacked for being an ineffective
adaptation. Turning the 600-page novel, a detective mystery enriched by
descriptions of medieval life and semiotic ruminations characteristic
of Eco's academic writings, into a mainstream two-hour movie was, of
course, ambitious. Four credited screenwriters and an international
co-production gave off a sense of struggle and indecision. The movie
was, and remains, easy to deride.
It's true that the film, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, has to skip, or skirt, much of Eco's detail - the famous pages-long description of the doorway, for example, is acknowledged by a few camera shots - but it takes the novel's literary strengths and offers a cinematic equivalent: a vivid depiction of monastic life which thrusts the viewer into the period of the story. In this respect, the production is exemplary: cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, art director Dante Ferretti and composer James Horner were all operating at the top of their game.
And, as Renton in Trainspotting (1996) knows, Sean Connery proved a perfect choice as William of Baskerville, the 14th-century Sherlock Holmes figure investigating the deaths in an Italian monastery. It's one of Connery's best performances, a happy marriage of character acting and star casting: he suits the physical description of William and he properly conveys the character's wisdom, caution and sense of regret. Christian Slater's Adso, the narrator of the novel, is a surrogate for the viewer, expressing bafflement at the mystery story and awe at William's deductive powers; while F. Murray Abraham works wonders with the underwritten part of the inquisitor Bernardo Gui.
The Name of the Rose is one of the most underrated movies of the eighties. That it wasn't brilliant should not detract from the fact that it's as good as it is.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Variety' got it completely wrong when they called this film
"sorrowfully mediocre" and "sluggishly staged". For in all honesty The
Name of the Rose is one of the greatest films of the '80s, and a film
that grows in greatness every time you revisit it. Based on a major
bestselling novel by Umberto Eco, the film is an excellent murder
mystery further heightened by its authentic period trappings and a
clutch of tremendous performances.
Brother William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) and his young apprentice Adso (Christian Slater) are monks who arrive in a 14th Century monastery having been summoned for a religious conference. Soon after their arrival, a series of bloodthirsty murders take place and the friars still alive begin to fear that either the Apocalypse is upon them, or a highly disturbed individual is out to bump them off. Brother William has a penchant for sleuthing, so he probes into the mysterious deaths and discovers that each victim had laid his eyes upon a Greek manuscript hidden deep within the interior of the monastery. He gradually realises that the killer must be targeting those who know of the book's existence, but just as he is about to solve the killings an inquisitor (F. Murray Abraham) arrives and tries to discredit Brother William's theories, preferring to blame the crimes on non-existent heretics and satanists.
The film is very realistic in every way - the cold, uncomfortable monastery; the graphic murders; grotesque and disfigured characters; a startlingly explicit sex scene; authentic-sounding dialogue; excellent indoor and outdoor locations; and well-researched costume designs. Furthermore, it is a superbly paced film, never in too great a hurry to unravel but never so slow that it becomes a plod. Connery is great as the hero, surpassed only by Abraham in a breathtaking role as Bernardo Gui the inquisitor, and Slater does well considering his tender age as the loyal apprentice. Both Roy Scheider and Michael Caine were short-listed for the Connery role, but I don't see how either actor could've done better with the character. Jean Jacques Annaud directs outstandingly, capturing every shadow, every expression and every plot piece with the eye that only a director obsessed with his material possibly can. The Name of the Rose makes the top #50 of the 1980s without question.
I've been enjoying films for 20 years now, and this is the first comment
I've put on any film website. I've always had the mickey taken out of me
for loving this film, and it's right up there amongst my favourites of a
very eclectic bunch. Why? Well, firstly and I have to say, very
importantly, it's taken from the finest piece of modern literature I've
read. Umberto Eco's novel has such mammoth scope of subject matter and
detail, it is was always going to be extremely hard to put into film (Dune
anyone??), and Annaud certainly doesn't succeed in every way, but my lord
gives it a damn good go.
The film quite rightly focusses on the human story within the book of a
group of murders committed at an Italian abbey in the 14th Century, and
ongoing search for the purpetrator, by a Franciscan monk and his
The book encompasses many other issues and plotlines, which could not be
fitted into the film. The three screenwriters do an excellent job, of
filming the almost impossible to within 2 hours or so.
Most importantly to me, the cinematography and set are sublime, almost
unsurpassed in modern film to my mind, and still to this day
I've always found that many non movie-lovers remember this film, for good
bad. The main reason for me is that it recreates so impressively the
it represents. Tonino Delli Colli, I salute you.
The production team deserves a similar merit for bringing together what
in essence an European co-production, whilst not forgetting the biggest
exterior set built in Europe since "Cleopatra". Step forward Dante
I salute you too.
0.1 of a mark off for the editing, but let's not dwell on
The acting is, bar none, marvellous, with even Christian Slater in his
main role putting up an extremely decent stab of being an apprentice monk.
I like a good whodunnit, but I adore a whodunnit which throws in the visual magnificence of a different age, top notch performances, a script taken from a extraordinary source, and assured directing. 10 out of 10, and my mates can carry on taking the mickey out of me.
So in summary, I'll leave it to the director himself.. `When I see a film, I love it when I'm entertained, when I care for the actors, when I share their emotions, when I'm scared, when I'm in love, but also if I learn a little something, if I have the feeling that I haven't seen something before, and that's what `The Name of the Rose' has.'
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A murder mystery set in a medieval monastery, this film manages to be
intriguing, amusing, thrilling and terrifying.
It was adapted from the first novel by the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco, a book concerned with the monopolization of knowledge. Eco approached this subject by concocting a series of mysterious deaths that occur in an isolated monastery, which eventually prove to revolve around a small coterie of disobedient monks who are partaking of a forbidden book. This leads to the discovery of the monastery's great secret, a vast hidden library where the knowledge of the ages is being allowed to rot away by authorities who hoard the books on the paternalistic justification that the knowledge they contain is too dangerous for ordinary people to possess. The library is a vast maze, and being lost in it is one of the novel's central episodes. (The maze theme, and particularly the library-as-maze, is one Eco shares with Jorge Luis Borges, and it feels here almost like the baton passed from one marathon-runner to the next.) It is a novel filled with the love of books themselves, and dressed in a stunning evocation of one of the bleakest periods in the intellectual history of the last 2000 years.
Jean Jacques Annaud's masterful adaptation of this book wisely retains some of the novel's elements, and transmutes others into terms far better suited to the medium of film. Annaud creates the milieu of the monastery, bleak, dank, claustrophobic, almost drained of life, brilliantly. (This film is the only way I'd ever want to visit a 13th century monastery.) The suppression of individualism that is part and parcel of this monastic life is the obvious outward expression of the mindset that would suppress the product of centuries of human thought and writing. Into it he brings William of Baskerville, excellently cast and wonderfully played by Sean Connery... a man who appears to be a monk solely because it is the only occupation in which he had the opportunity to study and exercise his mind. An obvious pre-cursor to Sherlock Holmes, William believes his eyes and ears, even when they contradict doctrine and the Official Line. He is brought in by the Abbott to explain deaths and quiet the rumors... before the impending visit of a notoriously ruthless official of the Inquisition. To the Abbott's great dismay, William dismisses an easy explanation and instead seeks to unravel the mystery. And coming ever closer is hovering threat of The Inquisition, which is eventually embodied on screen by the sinister F. Murray Abraham.
Where Annaud's film departs from the novel is in shifting the emphasis away from "the suppression of books" as the central theme. It remains a powerful symbol, but it is not required to stand on its own for the idea behind it. It is touched on in a wonderful scene where William first enters the library/maze and realizes what's hidden there, books he's heard legends of and longed to read his whole life, and he becomes totally giddy with the joy of this discovery. But the seduction of the maze, the high-point of the novel, is a distinctly literary effect, and Annaud and his writers shrewdly perceived that it would be rather flat on screen.
Instead, they center on the suppression of Free Thinking by the Inquisition, and the ruthless forms of terrorism employed to intimidate the "useful" minds into staying in their place, and thinking only what they are told. The human drama of the flames of the Inquisition "read" far more effectively on film than the intellectual drama of the imprisoned books, and that is driving force that makes the film, in its own medium, every bit as effective as the book.
In all, this film is an entertainment for the mind as well as the senses, filled with remarkable performances an indelible visions.
A number of people have commented on the similarity of this film, and
the Novel by Umberto Eco, to the DaVinci Code. For those who were not
born then, The Name of the Rose was published in 1980, thus predating
DaVinci by about 20 or more years. I must admit that I found DaVinci to
be a mass market popularization of Eco's theme, in short a "rip off".
Still, it may be the popularity of Brown's novel which has resulted in
Name of the Rose being brought back in a DVD version, and for that I am
For a film which was not favorably reviewed by the critics, it is surprising how many reviewers 20 years later are giving it a 10. Either the film wore well or tastes have changed. I loved the film first time around and was delighted to find it on DVD. Certainly the screenplay had to deviate from the philosophizing of the book. It would have been almost unwatchably "talkie" had it not, and those of us who want to read the sermons/discussions can read the book. The film stands on it's own.
The most ominous feeling for me, living in the religious and politically free thinking 21st century, was the realization that the church had such a grip on every aspect of life and thinking in the middle ages, and that any perceived repudiation of accepted Church dogma was deemed heresy and punishable by torture and a horrible death. That one group of people should wield such power, and the length they would go to to hold on to that power is truly frightening. The rigid class structure where the nobility and church owned the land which the peasants worked, and supported those above them while being kept down by those above, was very well conveyed in the film. Life was short and hard, health was poor and the plague could return at any time, carrying off those who had not been carried off by the incessant wars. Not a pleasant age to live. The period of the film is set just prior to the reformation. It is hardly surprising that the teachings of the various religious orders began to be questioned.
If you like movies to send you back to another historical period, there are
few which can do it more effectively than this one. The period is
pre-enlightenment when the only books in the land (Italy) are owned by the
different denominations of the Catholic faith. Inquisitions are the order of
the day and the atmosphere of mistrust and misrepresentation which accompany
such a fragile state, is expertly realised.
Enter Sean Connery playing a Sherlock Holmes (` Elementary my dear Wat-shun ') from the dark/middle ages, replete with a magnifying glass of sorts and a recognisable system of logical deduction. The story is a fine balance of complexity (easy enough to follow, but not too simplistic) with the inclusion of a number of sub-plots to keep it all ticking along nicely. The acting is very good but what makes it stand out is its evocation of another era, which is reproduced with authority. Highly enjoyable.
Der Name der Rose is by all means a great film. The story is an
excellent mix of Sherlock Holmes-type crime thriller and religious
criticism/commentary. I found this to be exceptional as the book was
labeled as impossible to remake as a film and while the book is indeed
better than the film, the film is certainly not without its charms.
First of all the cast is pretty much perfect. Reading the book Sean Connery wasn't who I had in mind as the character but he certainly makes the character his own. His performance is for lack of a better word unique. He brings his usual indescribable something to the character which makes him almost instantly likable and believable. He delivers his lines in a confident manner that suits the character. Like in many other of his films his character is a teacher character but he does not seem to berate his pupil (Christian Slater) but allows him to grow on his own merely nudging him along. Even though not my first choice to have played the character I cannot find any other who would suit the part after seeing the film. Christian Slater plays the protagonist in what must be described as his break through character. His inexperience as an actor shows and once again suits the character who is also quite inexperienced in many ways. He portrays the change and ultimate conflicts of his character well enough and like Connery makes the character his own. Michael Lonsdale is pretty good as well and even though the character is not as well defined as in the book he provides the broad strokes in a satisfactory manner. Feodor Chaliapin Jr. does an excellent job in bringing Jorge to life and matches Connery's authority in their scenes together but once again the character is done in pretty broad strokes and you only get a small taste of what the character was like in the book. F. Murray Abraham's character is not like in the book and even though I was slightly disappointed by the film's portrayal of the character I understand why it was necessary to change the character for dramatic purposes. Ron Perlman who has since gone on to become quite a big star has a small role in this film and he does a decent job.
The film thrives on its complex story (which is nowhere near as complex as in the book) and deep characterization of the main characters who are about as defined as characters can become without internal monologue. There is voice-over by the older version of Christian Slater's character but is basically only used in the introduction and end part of the film and at a few crucial moments. The fantastic characterization is also helped by the incredibly sharp and well written dialog which never gets boring or forced like you could have feared given the religious content. In many scenes the dialog was in fact so good that I got the chills. The film focuses mainly on the mystery elements but the religious elements of the film are somehow weaved into the overall plot but there were plenty more of these religious elements and factors in the book. Overall I think the film should have been at least 15 minutes longer to get more of these elements in but maybe thats just me. However, all the most important plot points (and a few sub-plots) are covered so in that sense the film is successful.
Another thing that works very well is the atmosphere of the film which is very tense and mysterious. The tension is helped by the music which like so many other things in the film is quite unique and fitting. The set work is pretty simple but as it is a monastery you cannot expect the most flamboyant of sets. The sets work in their simplicity, however, and there is really no point of critique to be found in the set work. The lighting is kept at a minimum as well and once again this works in favor of the film as it adds to the overall tension. Sometimes the lighting is a little to dark but it happens so rarely that its not really a problem.
All in all Der Name der Rose (or The Name of the Rose) is a wonderful film but what drags the film down ever so slightly is that it can some times feel a little rushed because of the amount of material it is covering and there were a few elements from the book I would have liked to have seen in the film. In general, however, the cross from book to film is very well done and the overall plot is very well depicted with many tense, frightening and interesting moments. The film is definitely one of Connery's best and it is mainly because of his performance that I am giving the film a 9 in stead of an 8
I remember this film made a huge impression on me when I first saw it in the cinema almost 20 years ago. I think I watched it three times in a couple of months. Recently, I purchased the DVD and my memory did not prove me wrong, the film is still great. It is a quite free adaption of Umberto Eco's novel, and if you have just recently read it, you may be irritated by all the deviations from the story of the book. But it is important to remember that to fit a 600-page, quite academic novel into a two-hour movie one just have to make adjustments. In fact, I have to admit that I think the movie is superior to the book. The book is very good indeed, but to my taste slightly too dry. The movie is perhaps more "shallow", but it has a totally unique atmosphere and an exciting plot. Sean Connery does one of his best, if not the best, role as a combination of Sherlock Holmes and a medieval philosopher. Very entertaining indeed! If you buy the DVD, the extra material is almost as interesting as the movie itself. The almost two-hour interview with the director Annaud is very inspiring, and he really comes over as almost a renaissance man. Very thoughtful, yet energetic and with a real purpose to his work. I remember when I first saw the movie, that I felt I had never seen any movie which so convincingly pictured life in the middle ages. When we hear about all the painstaking work that went into making the movie historically correct, this is no surprise.
A murder mystery set in a monastery in the late middle ages, at a time when the Franciscan order and the Holy Inquisition were at odds, mostly over the extravagances of the Papacy, is a dark and moody film, which matches the period of the story well. Once again Sean Connery takes a difficult role and makes it uniquely his. Fifteen year old Christian Slater is seen in his breakout role. But the real star of the film is the library of the monastery, a labyrinthine building that is many floors high and created with stairways that seem to always lead away from where you want to go. I found the book, frankly tedious. Umberto Eco writes in a style that is very pedantic at times, and just plain confusing at others. But the story translated well to the screen, but you must be willing to exhaust a little brain sweat to get anything out of the story. Be well rested before you watch this one.
A lot of our perception of the Middle Ages comes from previous
Hollywood movies, such as Robin Hood and Excalibur. In reality, Europe
of the Middle Ages was dark, damp, and dirty, there was no
middle-class, and the clergy and the nobility ran society like
dictators. Consideration of personal hygiene was almost non-existent,
medical practices were atrocious, and the search for knowledge was
discouraged by the church. Aside from the great Gothic cathedrals, much
of the architecture was comprised of either large stone buildings or
small shacks for the peasantry. And religious fanaticism raged all over
Christendom. If you weren't fearing for your life in the hereafter
because of sin, you might be worried that the church would haul you in
on charges of heresy. But there was one small consolation: it was the
period when some of the most beautiful books ever created first
appeared by the artistic hands of monks in scriptoriums. This is the
world of "The Name of the Rose", the film adaption of the novel by
The story concerns several murders that take place in a medieval monastery circa 1327. But this monastery is special (although essentially fictional): it contains one of the greatest and most extensive libraries in all of Medieval Europe. Not all aspects of the Middle Ages were gloom and doom. The age produced some of the most extravagantly beautiful hand-written books western society has ever seen. The large ornamented calligraphy was adorned by beautiful illuminations in the margins, artwork that surrounded the text. (The art of hand illumination has been subsequently lost to modern printing innovations.)
William of Baskerville (Sean Connery), a Franciscan monk, and his pupil Adso (Christian Slater) arrive at this Benedictine monastery hidden in the snow-clad mountains presumably near the border of Italy and modern-day Switzerland. At this time, the Franciscans were a relatively new monastic order, their order barely 100 years old, as compared to the Benedictines that by this time had boasted an 800-year history. William and Adso learn about the death of one of the monastery's best illuminators who worked in the monastery's scriptorium. The scriptorium was the area of a medieval monastery in which monks copied, illuminated and illustrated books. The story becomes a narrative about medieval books, classical writings, and the power of thought--medieval thought versus classical (aka Ancient Greek) sensibilities. As William of Baskerville (so-named referencing Sherlock Holmes) begins to piece together the puzzle, he realizes that the death has much to do with the library and its books, and possibly one book in particular.
Although this is a loose adaption of the book, the film "The Name of the Rose" is one of the best depictions of the Middle Ages. Unlike most Hollywood offerings concerning the same period, the actors in "The Name of the Rose" were probably similar to the strange-looking and care-worn monks that habituated 14th-century monastic life. Most of these people (save the two Hollywood actors Sean Connery and Christian Slater) are gaunt and less unattractive people occupying large drafty buildings full of stench and grime. Their lives amounted to sleeping, eating, working, and worship. Leisure was not just avoided, it was largely unknown. Their only solace is the beautiful Gregorian Chant that echos through the Church Sanctuary during morning and evening services.
No one in this movie is particularly attractive, and there are even a character or two who will make you cringe. The cast, mostly made up of French, Italian, and American actors, is outstanding with a few notable standouts. Ron Perlman as Salvatore, a dim-witted hunchback who doesn't know whether he's speaking Latin, Italian or French is the absolute tour-de-force performance of the film. His portrayal is worth the price of admission alone. I didn't realize the actor was actually American until much later! Feodor Chaliapin as the venerable Jorge, an aging blind monk that does not let his age nor his blindness interfere with his expressing opinion gives a stalwart performance. Volker Prechtel as the stoic librarian and supervisor of the scriptorium; his character could give any modern-day spinster a run for her money. William Hickey as Ubertino of Casale, an exiled Franciscan who is strangely lovable despite his age and his dying teeth! And F. Murray Abraham (of Salieri fame in Amadeus) is also memorable as the historical figure Bernardo Gui, a true-to-life 14th-century inquisitor. You really believe you are walking in the 14th century among these people. But would you want to invite them for coffee?
This is an outstanding film, granted not exactly escapist and definitely not for the feint of heart. Simultaneously, this movie provides a window into the world of Western Europe 700 years ago, when democracy did not exist, people were stratified, religious fanaticism the norm, and the world was lit only by fire. A compelling time and a compelling subject. Personally I love to study Middle Ages and its history and culture. Would I ever want to live back then? Not on your life. I'll use movies and books instead like the Name of the Rose.
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