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.
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
Cate Blanchett was set to play Portia, but had to drop out at the last minute after discovering she was pregnant. 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 »
So may the outward shows be least themselves: The world is still deceived with ornament.
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It is a risky business to film such a lavish production of "The Merchant of Venice". It could be a stodgy, wooden, period piece, or it could be laughable for its excesses. This version is neither. While I am not completely sold by Al Pancino's very restrained Shylock, he does give a competent and honorable performance. Jeremy Iron's Antonio, is as always with his tortured-self roles, riveting. Some of the lesser roles seemed to be a little to much in the spirit of boisterous fun, "a boy's own Venician adventure story", but the central plot is efficiently and sympathetically moved forward through the film.
It goes without saying, that the location shots, costumes, and interiors were breathtaking, almost to the point of distraction.
One thing, on which I do not wish to comment on, is the anti-semetic content of the play. The film is as sympathetic to the predicament of the Jews as possible while still portraying Shylock as the instrument of his own self-destruction. It is a sad comment that four centuries later, the director of this film found it necessary to comment on his nuanced view before the premiere screening at the Toronto film fest.
This is a beautiful film, and I look forward to several viewings.
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