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Recensione del film Frankenstein di Branagh

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Recensione del film Frankenstein di Branagh

Mary Shelley informs us that the idea for a Modern Prometheus arose from stories told on summer evenings during a holiday in Geneva in 1816. It was here that she and poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron amused themselves with German stories of ghosts: 'The tales excited in us a playful desire of imitation' and the result was her own famous story 'founded on some supernatural occurence.' This appeal to gothic sensibility lies behind what is, even in the late twentieth century, the success of Frankenstein. In addition to the very strong moral message implicit in a retelling of the Promethean myth the preface (which was in fact written by the novelist's husband) outlines the importance of suspending disbelief and allowing the imagination to create visions of terror.

Kenneth Branagh is the latest of a number of filmmakers who have been inspired in their own way to a 'desire of imitation' and he has chosen to concentrate on a broad scale of issues raised by Shelley. It is not only a tale of terror; there is of course an indication of the dangers inherent in scientific experiment as it transgresses the laws of nature. Frankenstein is also a love story and an adventure story told with pace and animation. Branagh's style of direction is defined by two successful versions of Shakespeare -- the tense build up to the Agincourt campaign in Henry V (1989) and the rollicking festival atmosphere of Much Ado About Nothing (1993). A common feature in both of these films is the alternation between excitement and contemplation, and this characteristic of Shakespeare's texts recurs in Frank Darabont and Steph Lady's adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. This is not solely the creature's tale, neither is it an exploitation of horror and sensationalism. The story addresses the consequences of a conceited to create new life in relation to Victor Frankenstein's family, friends, fiancee and 'child.' Branagh's well paced direction reminds the audience of the chaos inherent in sin.

Branagh both directs as well as acts as title character (he also co-produced the film) and he tends to emphasise the humane side of the scientist who is torn between his passion for life and his love for Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham sectiuner. Frankenstein loses his mother (Cherie Lunghi) during a graphic child birth scene and this instils a noble if rather short sighted notion of wanting to preserve all life. Both young Victor and Elizabeth are presented as strong willed. The scientist lives to work and the harmful effect of this upon his relationship soon becomes apparent. But Bonham sectiuner proves to be equally as determined in her attempt to save their love. She does not allow Elizabeth to become a passive or helpless character and indeed the additional material added to the story concerning Elizabeth's fate actually underlines her significance to the debate that goes on about Victor's decision to create life.

The emphasis on tragedy or the cost of Frankenstein's experiment in human terms is reiterated by Trevyn McDowell's sympathetic reading of the ill fated Justine and a beautifully sensitive Richard Briers as Grandfather Delacy, the only character who shows affection for the creature. Aiden Quinn is Captain Walton who witnesses the deaths of several of his crew and Ian Holm shows complete helplessness as he sees destruction in his role as Victor's father. Each character faces the grim reality that Frankenstein's erroneous decision to try to change the course of nature has a cummulative effect. Branagh concentrates on the chaos that evolves; he examines the turmoil created by the creature and the inner turmoil that the creator experiences.

Another of Kenneth Branagh's trade marks to date is the way in which he manages to gain excellent dramatic performances from actors renowned as brilliant comics (Robbie Coltrane's Falstaff in Henry V easily comes to mind) and here he casts Celia Imrie as Mrs Moritz and John Cleese as the melancholic Dr. Waldeman. Branagh and Cleese relish the opportunity to show the reanimation of severed limbs -- the perilous grip that Henry Clerval (Tom Hulce) suffers from an ape's paw should be warning enough but this is part of the dark suspense that attends Victor's wish to reinvest a corpse with life. Waldeman maintains a grim outlook in his association with Victor and this aspect caught well in Cleese' portrayal contributes to the sense of forewarning. Robert Hardy plays the imperious Professor Krempe who preaches the danger of playing God to a theatre full of medical students and there is a useful contrast between his distance from Victor's dream and Cleese' empathy. The greatest problem that Waldeman faces in relation to the moralistic side of the story is that he shows an understanding of the young scientist's desire to experiment but he cannot fully reconcile this with the philosophical problems that arise from the act of creation. It is the mixture of sympathy for Victor and abhorrence at the knowledge of what might result from his work that comes through strongly in Cleese' performance.

Waldeman obviously has a fear of, as well as a fascination with the supernatural and this translates to the audience who eagerly await the appearance of Robert Di Niro as the creature. The act of creation itself is rightfully ambiguous, Mary Shelley was vague about what the process involved and ultimately this aspect of the story is not as important as the consequence of Victor's experiment. Death and havoc ensue after the monster comes to terms with Victor's eshewing responsibility for his horrible creation. Daniel Parker's make-up conveys the misery of disurement that is suffered by the creature but at the same time it is subtle enough so as not to distract from Shelley's moral purpose. This is stated clearly in Di Niro's speech. Shelley's monster is articulate, unlike the pathos filled interpretation offered by Boris Karloff in James Whale's 1931 version of the novel (Karloff did in fact play the creature no less than three times in successive spin offs from the original story). Branagh, however, is eager to justify the monster's wrath and allows Di Niro to recreate Mary Shelley's self-educated, (self) disillusioned monster -- one who reasons and questions and finally, with Blakean insight acknowledges man's failings and weaknesses. Shelley achieves this by entering the creature's psyche to show us the parallel between demonic power and crushing helplessness after his expulsion from Delacy's cottage by his son Felix:

'Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge. I could with pleasure have destoyed the cottage and its inhabbitants, and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery. 'When night came I quitted my retreat, and wandered in the wood; and now, no longer restrained by the fear of discovery, I gave vent to my anguish in fearful howlings. I was like a wild beast that had broken the toils; destroying the objects that obstructed me, and raging through the wood with a stag-like swiftness. O! what a miserable night I passed! the cold stars shone in mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches above me; now and then the sweet voice of a bird burts forth amidst the universal stillness. All, save I, were at rest or in enjoyment; I. like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within me; and finding myself unsympathised with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin

The point is made in the film during the discussion between Branagh and Di Niro that follows a dizzying journey to the Mer de Glace at Chamonix. Di Niro questions the motives behind the experiment with complete simplicity bringing into focus that his alienation from human society is a clear reflection of human ignorance. Mankind is fickle and uncaring and does not live up to its sense of responsibility. Shelley allows the reader a sympathetic glimpse of the creature by way of breaking down Victor's prejudice who had supposed him to be a murderer: 'For the first time, also, I felt what the duties fof a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness.' By contrast Branagh (whose facial expression asserts his realisation of guilt) abandons any connection that he should feel toward the creature he is met with Di Niro's innocent but piercing glance and the question 'And you think I am evil?']

It would be difficult to discard the imaginative score provided by Patrick Doyle. The composer's previous work includes music heard in Branagh's films Henry V, Dead Again and Much Ado. He creates atmosphere and emotion in each new work and his contribution to Frankenstein proves just as unique. Doyle provides a recurrent leit motif that is heard in conjunction with the themes of creativity, love, death and eventually, despair. The melody works in a way similar to Berlioz' handling of the Dies Irae and is heard in various guises; in full orchestral force that accompanies the depiction of Victor and Elizabeth's love and in the bare chilling treble line that issues from a recorder heard before the deaths of William and Elizabeth. The theme even exists in the form of a lively ball-room waltz.

Significantly, Doyle's score manages to add to the essential unity of the telling of the story. That music played by the creature can be heard again in a scene that illustrates Victor's passion for Elizabeth re-enforces the idea that there is an implied connection between the scientist and his creation. The point is raised in the augmented ending with regard to the fate of Elizabeth. Shelley, I believe, attempted to focus attention on the tragic loss of sight that Victor suffers in relation to the creature's sensitive, even poetic, soul. In this film version of the story Doyle's intelligent phrasing is another way which enables further consideration of the creature's plight.

In Frankenstein love and death, creativity and murder are all clearly related. Branagh maintains the constant threat of menace. His creature is sufficiently humane to elicit sympathy but at the same time he is disured enough so as to allow for a smooth transition to evil revenger. Branagh also manages to present an imposing image of the creature, who is solitary and unnatural. Whether seen amid the ice caps of the North Pole or before the courageous Elizabeth his presence gradually comes to symbolise the inevitability of death. Victor recants on his promise to provide the creature with a companion and the result, quite naturally, is that we focus on the creature's sense of betrayal. Shelley writes of the abhorence felt when the young student is confronted with the vision of his experiment. The moonlit landscape helps to convey a feeling of mystery and fear:

I trembled, and my heart failed within me; when, on looking up, I saw, by the light of the moon, the daemon at the casement. A ghastly grin wrinkled his lips as he gazed on me, where I sat fulfilling the task which he had allotted to me.

This is all very well as an indication of the way a gothic back drop adds to the overall suspense but what of the sympathy that we are meant to feel toward the hapless 'monster.' The demon lurks about in what has become his natural habitat of darkness but the fact that Shelley, and Branagh in his interpretation, tend to emphasise is that in spite of the terror inspired by the creature he is restricted by his own fear of solitude. Branagh too fully indicates that this is a fear that is shared by the creature and Victor:

As I looked on him, his countenance expressed the utmost extent of malice and treachery. I thought with a sensation of madness on my promise of creating another like him, and trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged. The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness, and, with a howl of devilish despair and revenge, withdrew.

It is true to a certain extent that Frankenstein's attraction relies on such moments of stark terror. Readers and film audiences alike still appreciate the gothic elements within the story. Even Mary Shelley cast her mind back to the time that excited her teenage imagination in a new introduction to her novel written in 1831. Here she concentrated upon the strong desire to tell a story that 'would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror . . . to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.' This is certainly an essential componant in any story that explores the darkest side of the supernatural and Shelley cannot be faulted in achieving such a reaction. In a supposedly more enlightened age Kenneth Branagh also directs our attention once again to 'horror,' but here there is a stress on horror that results from human ignorance. In this sense his film version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein can be seen to offer a refreshing view of a familiar tale.


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