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.
On the day that a serial killer that he helped put away is supposed to be executed, a noted forensic psychologist and college professor receives a call informing him that he has 88 minutes left to live.
Gennaro lives with his ailing grandpa, who sits outside holding tight to his last quarter. But grandpa's not ready to die, he has some unfinished business with a woman from his past and he enlists Gennaro to act as his emissary.
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
Director Michael Radford was required to cut the kiss between Antonio and Bassanio for the 'Edited for Television' version of this film. The ambiguous relationship between the two men is sexually innocent in Shakespeare's original play, but clearly homosexual in Radford's adaptation. See more »
When Portia and Nerissa arrive disguised as s judge and a clerk they have a letter with them. When the duke reads this letter out loud it can be clearly seen that there is also text written on the back of the letter. The duke, however, finishes reading the letter without turning the letter around. See more »
Intolerance of the Jews was a fact of 16th Century life even in Venice, the most powerful and liberal city state in Europe.
By law the Jews were forced to live in the old walled foundry or 'Geto' area of the city. After sundown the gate was locked and guarded by Christians
In the daytime any man leaving the ghetto had to wear a red hat to mark him as a Jew.
Man in Crowd:
The Jews were forbidden to own property. So they practised usury, the lending of money at interest. This was ...
[...] See more »
Stunning, Well-Intentioned, but Anti-Semitic Nevertheless
Stunning film, I won't dispute that. Seldom have I seen such an interface of high caliber talent (and I don't mean "names") -- from the original music, to the costume design, to the acting, to the poetic writing of Shakespeare. Al Pacino's acting, particularly in the first two-thirds of the movie, took my breath away. Jeremy Irons continues to impress me. Lynn Collins was every bit the equal of these two greats.
I also appreciate the good intentions of director and screenwriter Michael Radford. I think he did the best he could to bring out the humanitarian vision within the play and overcome its anti-Semitism.
However, anti-Semitism is almost as fundamental to this play as sexism is to Taming of the Shrew. It simply can't be transformed into something else, and ultimately the play does not offer an insightful glimpse into the corrosive effects of racism/anti-Semitism.
Shakespeare never interacted with any Jews or Jewish community because Jews were expelled from England before his time. His play was written based on what he learned from the society around him and, from there, his "enlightened" interpretation of the anti-Semitic myths about the Jews. But an "enlightened" interpretation of lies and projections of villainy, giving the fabricated scoundrel of the anti-Semitic imagination some "humanity" and complex motivation, is still founded on lies and projections.
It isn't enough to "understand" Shylock's bitter and murderous behavior, because the portrayal didn't refer, even metaphorically, to a real dynamic in the behavior of severely oppressed Jews toward their gentile oppressors.
Antonio's more lofty behavior in the end was Shakespeare's dramatization of the commonly held belief in Christian moral superiority, a belief widely held to this day. This belief was maintained despite (and because of) widespread anti-Semitic Christian behavior toward Jews, which at that time did not just consist of spitting and insults, but of rape and persecution and murder. The pursued pound of flesh was Jewish.
Shakespeare brings the play to conclusion with his (and his intended audience's) idea of justice. However, the depiction of the brutal intentions, which reverses the historical dynamic between Christian and Jew, is fundamentally unjust. It brings "understanding" to an unreal phenomenon for which there is no need for understanding. Shylock is a fabrication created from the threads of anti-Semitic myths; the character is not a historically valid representation of a Jewish man.
The filmmakers and actors argued that the play/film is a valuable exploration of the corrosive effects of anti-Semitism and racism. While the effects of racism is a very worthy subject to explore through film, an honest depiction will reveal that the effects from injustice, degradation, and danger are most often directed toward one's own. Today that dynamic is seen in impoverished inner cities where the victims and perpetrators are usually from the same communities and families. Nevertheless, there is the contemporary, paranoid mind of the oppressor which imagines the oppressed is "out to get us."
It's also important to note that the effects of oppression are complex, and are not solely negative. Some of the most creative American traditions have come from the inner city. There is the experience of danger and poverty, but there is also laughter and vibrancy that are largely missing in the American suburbs and the wealthier parts of a city. Similarly, Jewish men and women have created and sustained nurturing communities, vibrant culture(s), and have made creative and intellectual contributions to the larger world disproportionate to their numbers. These positive aspects are probably due in part to having to cope with and overcome the harmful effects of oppression.
Of course, Shakespeare doesn't depict the treasures of Jewish community and culture. And while he depicts some of the pain, frustration, and outrage, the depiction of these feelings simply taking the form of vengeance is not valid.
That doesn't mean I think this film shouldn't have been made, or the play shouldn't be produced. However, I don't think that it should be presented as NOT anti-Semitic. I think an accompanying critique of the inherent anti-Semitism of the play, and the historic anti-Semitism in England, is the only conscientious way to present it. There is no need to pretend that Shakespeare rose above the racism and sexism of his time. He didn't. He had many moments of profound, humanitarian insights, but those moments shouldn't be used to argue he was something he wasn't.
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