Movie Review: The Merchant of Venice

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
The Merchant of Venice received its out of competition premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September. Anticipation for the film was high, and British director Michael Radford did not let the Venetians down.

In medieval Venice, Jews were required to wear red hats, when outside of the Geto or trading area and could only lend not own money. Shakespeare’s tale is about the 16th century Jewish merchant Shylock who lends money to Antonio (Jeremy Irons) for the sake of his friend Bassanio (Ralph Fiennes), and demands its repayment in a pound of human flesh when Antonia’s ships at sea are plundered by pirates.Antonio despises Shylock for being a Jewish pagan yet the punishment waged upon him seems cruel.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Bassanio needs the money to win the hand of Portia, whose cohort is interested in Shylock’s daughter. The fine tuned performance of Al Pacino and the enthusiasm about his work may suggest an Oscar nod next year. True to his style he does a fair amount of ranting and raving, but also displays subtlety. Pacino who only understands a little Italian fielded questions at the press conference and said that Radford was great in telling him how to take down the volume and revealed some of the subtleties in bringing Shakespeare to screen. There was not a single question however asked of Lynne Collins who plays both "Portia" and the 'young doctor' who serves as an intermediary for the demands of Shylock upon Antonia. Portia calls herself "a live woman bound to the decisions of a dead father". True to the time, women are either sold in marriage or prostitutes. But as she wants more out of life, she proves that she is as capable as all the learned men of the time.

Shakespeare thereby magificently draws attention to the outsider groups and women of the time in his play and Radford has succeeded in toning down the anti Semitism of the play - a piece that presents great obstacles for generations since Shakespeare’s time. When asked why he plays such dark characters Jeremy Irons acidly replied " you haven’t seen all of my work".

Filmed in the lagoons of Venice and the palaces that remain there is one extra thrown into the smelly waters and I hope he survived the experience. The industrial city of Maestre empties into the lagoon, but fortunately the lagoon doesn’t empty into the ocean at Lido where the festival was held and welcomed Al Pacino as The Merchant of Venice.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, Venice Italy

More Information:
The Merchant of Venice
USA / Italy / Luxembourg / UK - 2004