Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon (1975) - dir. Stanley Kubrick
I begin by professing my utter adoration and admiration of director Stanley Kubrick. Long my favorite director since first viewing Spartacus at a young age, it is with my viewing of Barry Lyndon, to which some view as his meisterwerk, that I complete his oeuvre.
Barry Lyndon follows the roguish travels of Irishman Redmond Barry, as he waltzes through 18th Century Europe through love, conflict, fortune and loss. A picaresque account of a poor man’s aspirations for the luxuries in life, and as noted by the narrator, destined by fate to finish his life poor, lonely and childless. What strikes me most about the narrative is the complexity behind the relationship between the audience and Redmond. Kubrick presents us with an objective reality, through which it is up to us as to how we judge the character. At first I pitied him, for the heartbreak that sets him on his life of miscreant actions. Then I sympathized, after witnessing the brutalities of the Seven Years War, and his submission in the British and Prussian armies. However I then had to relent in my condemnation of Redman as he transcended the traditional bounds of anti-hero into a scoundrel of a man. 
Beyond the exquisite narrative, Barry Lyndon is perhaps the most beautiful film to be immortalized on film. This is testament to the technical prowess and direction of Stanley Kubrick for which he is renown. Each shot is intrinsically crafted. The sets are gorgeously crafted, with lush Georgian decor and European countryside crafting a beautiful historical landscape. Actors stand poised in prefection. And most notable is the cinematography, which brings these lavish images to their full force. Kubrick worked to create new camera lenses which allowed for him to film scenes lit only by candlelight. The sum of these parts can only be equated to a great work of art, with every frame one worthy to hang in the Louvre.
But don’t be fooled, for true to the works of Stanley Kubrick auteur-ism this film’s beauty belies a cold detachment. Even the most awe inspiring masterpiece, beyond the enamel is but a blank canvas. These beautiful creatures are no less human than subjects of a painting. Redman exhibits the coldest calculation in his rise to power, through confidence games, subterfuge and deception. None of which bring him true joy or emotion. The rest of the characters, though well acted, were in the words of Roger Ebert “clearly chosen for their faces [rather than] their personalities”. The graceful Lady Lyndon, play by Marisa Berenson, is a stoic beauty, who intentionally displays no passion. In a penultimate scene she signs a check to the man that nearly destroy her life and fortune, she barely pauses before signing the dotted line.
Kubrick I have long espoused as my primary influence, from the days in which I made short films myself, to the reviews I write now. His meticulous attention to detail, cold yet effective characterizations and breakthrough in technical and narrative achievement make Barry Lyndon an astounding film in its own merit. This comes highly recommended. 9.5/10


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