Il mercante di Venezia (1911) Poster

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Colorful But Rather Fragmented
Snow Leopard29 October 2001
This is a colorful but somewhat fragmented early film version of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice". In the play, the dialogue is very important both to the plot and to the meaning, and so any silent version will miss a lot. As long as you are familiar with the story, you can still get enough out of it to make it worth a look, but it also leaves out some of the best parts of the play. One aspect that makes it worth seeing is that the Italian film-makers put lots of color into the costumes and some of the other details, using the painstaking old hand-tinting method. The production team did the same thing with King Lear, and that film (titled "Re Lear", in Italian) works better in silent format. This one is still worth a look for Shakespeare fans who like silent movies, but it does not work quite as well as a lot of the other early attempts to put the Bard onto film.
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tedg27 May 2005
Shakespeare used Italians in his plays as a sort of legendary people, removed from London norms. The general impression of them was that they were inherently theatrical: superficial in the sense that their lives are simple and easy to read, plus they dressed and behaved foppishly.

This is a play that is inherently anti Italian and which incidentally has a Jew who seeks revenge for his "abducted" daughter. But his actions aren't because he is a Jew, nor a "ruthless" moneylender. They are because he is in Italian society.

Now we have this little film, made by Italians, laboriously and garishly colored, featuring only the part of the story involving the Jew. This by itself makes it worth watching, to see how the land of Dante deals with the second generation of language mastery. Even though there are no spoken words in this, one can see how they think the language should be illustrated.

Dante's language is a matter of strict cadence with some rise and fall all dedicated to flourishes in the imagery (much like painting a carefully structured facade). Shakespeare's language is a matter of the words themselves using meter and structure with the intent of leaving it and examining their limits.

But these Italians wouldn't know that, nor that the story itself is structured around that ignorance.

Curiously, Portia is the least attractive woman in the play.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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