By Isaac Ssebandeke.
Al Pacino states that you had to understand Oscar Wilde’s experiences, process and life in order to fully appreciate the author’s work, it is crucial that you watch this film with prior knowledge of Pacino as the passionate, quasi-mad scientist-like filmmaker we see in the documentary that accompanies his take on Wilde’s controversial play.
Filmed as if it was a play(albeit in an LA Sound Studio) in which Pacino directs and stars as King Herod- a role that will inevitably have many cinema goers question his creative sanity in Wilde’s gruesome tale of unrequited lust, greed and blood-filled revenge. Pacino’s Herod is unlike what many Pacinofiles are used to from the highly skilled veteran actor. But for me, it’s his regrettably rare moments of sudden and piercing rage coupled with his similarly infrequent moments of gentle seduction that are most compelling- reminding the cynics(as well as the critics) that although his skills as a director need honing, his acting is as sharp as ever.
While Wilde’s Salome was previously banned in the 19th century for it’s religious and heavy sexual connotations, Pacino’s screen adaptation is at times unsatisfactory. Using a hybrid of stage and screen- the rooftop stage, and incessant “stage actorly” delivery makes for at times uniteresting viewing. I found myself wishing that it was either filmed in the style of many NT Productions or simply as conventional film. But if you can look past this and a few other faults then I’m confident you will find yourself fully engaged in the brilliantly written and highly poetic film.
All things sets aside, it’s the-then-unknown Jessica Chastain who shines unapologetically bright as the highly coveted Salome, stepdaughter to King Herod. Chastain’s performance can be best described as powerfully stunning. She plays this role, that Wilde originally wrote- in french- for the French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, with undeniable sexual grace and a commandingly quiet confidence.
We must also take into consideration that- as the documentary suggests that this 78 minute film was made in just 8 days whilst the cast and director were performing in a 26 performance run of the play. So remember as you go and watch it in cinemas on 21st September(UK) that “love has a bitter taste” and that possibly Salome will leave you with a certain taste, whether it’s bitter or sweet is a part of the excitement.
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