In 16th century Venice, when a merchant must default on a large loan from an abused Jewish moneylender for a friend with romantic ambitions, the bitterly vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment instead.
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Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio,
Venice, 1596. Melancholy Antonio loves the youthful Bassanio, so when Bassanio asks for 3000 ducats, Antonio says yes before knowing it's to sue for the hand of Portia. His capital tied up in merchant ships at sea, Antonio must go to Shylock, a Jewish moneylender he reviles. Shylock wraps his grudge in kindness, offering a three-month loan at no interest, but if not repaid, Antonio will owe a pound of flesh. The Jew's daughter elopes with a Christian, whetting Shylock's hatred. While Bassanio's away wooing Portia, Antonio's ships founder, and Shylock demands his pound of flesh. With court assembled and a judgment due, Portia swings into action to save Bassanio's friend. Written by
The bare-breasted prostitutes were not put in the film to make it more risqué, but rather to add a note of historical authenticity. Venetian law at the time required all prostitutes to bare their breasts because the Christian authorities were concerned about rampant homosexuality in their city. See more »
When the Jews are carrying the Torah around the synagogue, the prayers and garb is appropriate. The Torah would only be taken out to be read. Traditional Jews only read Torah in the morning, when the light for reading would be best before the advent of artificial lighting. Therefore the Torah would not have been out at that time of day. See more »
For thy three thousand ducats here is six.
If every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts and every part a ducat, I would not draw them; I would have my bond.
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The Merchant has been reinvented - with a deft hand
I am always impressed when a director (and this case director/screenwriter) takes a piece of classical text - and makes it come alive. Sure, Shakespeare's text can give you goosebumps even when hammered out with self-importance, but to see a production where true inventiveness makes wonderful words even more so - by the provision of context or nuance not found in the stage directions is simply awe-inspiring. There are many troubling things about the play. It is a racist play about racism - and that still sticks. I have never accepted Jessica's desertion of her father without any acceptable reason. I have never accepted the Christians' position of sanctimonious self-righteousness. But, brilliantly, there is a text prologue which helps us understand the times and politics in which the story is set, and mercifully, much of Jessica's part is cut.
The text is quite stripped down with many passages cut. But, I only noticed one line which was cut at the moment when I expected to hear it
and it was replaced by a look that said it all. This economy and
judicious editing has given us a gripping movie - not just a film of the play.
And at last, there is a rationale as to why Antonio is so loyal and generous to the undeserving/unrelated Bassanio - you can almost feel Antonio's pulse start to race when he catches glimpse of Bassanio passing by in a gondola, or arriving for a visit. But it is as subtle as that - no more. I was spellbound.
There were many other highlights. I felt the arguments during the trial to be heartbreaking. And, the suitors' trials are hilarious.
Add all that to glorious cinematography and costumes that resonated with the times, and you'll understand why I can't wait to see it again. And again.
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