Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tristan + Isolde

"You were right. Life is greater than death. And love is greater than either."
(Tristan from the film Tristan + Isolde)

"All men must have someone, have someone
who would never take advantage
of a love bright as the sun.
Someone to stand beside them
and you just may be the one."
("You Just May Be the One," Michael Nesmith)

Last night I watched Tristan + Isolde on DVD. I must admit that I didn't know quite what to expect from the film. I knew that it was directed from Kevin Reynolds, who directed two of my favourite movies (Fandango and The Count of Monte Cristo). I also knew that it based on the Celtic myth of Tristan and Iseult, upon which many poems, books, and even an opera (by Wagner, no less) are based. Unfortunately, the movie made little impact at the box office and I seem to recall it got decidedly mixed reviews. While I knew the subject matter would interest me (I have always been a Welsh mythology buff), I did not know if I would like the film.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Tristan + Isolde is a very good movie. The movie's strength rests with Dean Georgaris's screenplay. Geogaris wrote a tale which unfolds with a deliberate pace, where character development is given precedence over set pieces. Tristan + Isolde is not an empty love story where all the old cliches are slipped into place. It is a romance where the events emerge from the emotional states and actions of the characters and the political realities that surround them. The love between Tristan and Isolde develops over time as their characters develop. As a result their love seems all the more realistic. Indeed, the movie captures the themes of the myth perfectly--the conflict between a man's honour and duty to his king and his love for a woman.

Of course, even the best screenplay won't make a good movie if the performances aren't good. Fortunately, the cast does a good job in Tristan + Isolde. Sophia Myles is very convincing as Isolde, while James Franco does well as Tristan. The best performance by far, however, is given by Rufus Sewell as Marke. Sewell's Marke is good, noble, sympathetic, and, ultimately, tragic.

The performances are aided aptly by the movie's production values themselves. Shot on limited money, Tristan + Isolde has the feel of an epic without an epic budget. Much of this is due to the direction of Kevin Reynolds and the cienmatography of Arthur Reinhart, who wisely choose their shots to give the movie a bigger than life feel without a cast of thousands. Indeed, Reinhart's photography (the movie was shot on location in both Ireland and the Czech Republic) is absolutely beautiful.

I will not say that Tristan + Isolde is necessarily a great film, but it is certainly a very good film. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Celtic myth, the Dark Ages, or simply a well told love story.

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