King Lear (1987)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Tragedy  |   Release Date - Jan 22, 1988 (USA)  |   Run Time - 91 min.  |   Countries - Switzerland , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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King Lear, from 1987, marks a shift from the opaqueness of director Jean-Luc Godard's late '70s/early '80s work to his more accessible, yet still dense recent films, which balance the intensely personal with despair over the political. A re-imagining of themes from Shakespeare's play in a "post-Chernobyl" world, the primary thread has William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth (Peter Sellars) trying to recreate his ancestor's plays as a base for a new artistic culture and runs into a modern incarnation of Cordelia (Molly Ringwald) and Lear (Mafia Don Learo played by Burgess Meredith). Godard's use of repeating titles ("no thing" a play on Cordelia's response to her father's queries on her love), the interweaving of Virginia Woolf's The Waves, and candle-lit shots of Renaissance paintings creates a stark portrait of the close of the 20th century. There are large portions that are incomprehensible. It's not clear what the four demons following Shakespeare around symbolize, nor the boy gathering sticks or Woody Allen's appearance as Mr. Alien. Yet the picture ultimately works, which is all that really matters. The disconnect between Learo and Cordelia, the struggle to understand others and the limitations of language, the need to make sense of disasters, to continue to make art and continue in the face of human cruelty, the disconcerting thought that art might not have a place here -- all these ideas are powerfully and clearly conveyed.