Coriolanus and the Land of Blood and Honey. Two great war films, two different viewpoints. Both bring perspectives not often seen in war films.
Different times. Morphed characters. The same story. Coriolanus, the film, attests to the timelessness of truths Shakespeare wrote about—that we haven’t yet conquered our thirst for war and men’s ambitions, beliefs, and/or desire for revenge still relentlessly lead to destruction.
This version, directed by British actor, Ralph Fiennes, is set in modern Rome, racked by internal conflicts and violent jealousies most of us are probably familiar with by now. This time, of course, they are resolved with guns, not swords.
The main characters in this drama are some of the most complex, even in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. They are all consumed with a terrible kind of passion. Passion for power. Passion for revenge. Passion for war.
What sets this apart from other war films is the intimate look into the psyche of the main character, expressed in beautiful (my opinion) Shakespearean language. Coriolanus (played with intensity—as always—by Ralph Fiennes) is that rare personage who believes in telling the truth, no matter what. This is both a virtue and a flaw. The most obvious way it is a flaw is his inability to be politic. He can hide neither his superiority as a warrior nor the fact that he knows it. It makes him a bad politician. And it makes him vulnerable. But, in the end, the gentle reproachful pleading of an equally strong, determined mother (Vanessa Redgrave, grown amazing with age)—to whom Coriolanus owes his being—is what leads to his undoing.
Shakespeare tragedies are never easy to watch. They are not made to be entertaining. But if you can sit through this one and be engaged, then you will understand why he continues to be the greatest dramatist of all time.
We remained seated, speechless, on our couch when this film was over—astounded at its realism and the courage it took to bring to the screen a war that, for the most part, the Western world turned a blind eye to for quite a while.
Then, there is the usual way war films are made—explosions and killing and military strategies. It is not often that one sees a film shown from the viewpoint of the other war victims, who probably suffer at least as much if not more. Maybe, it’s because the filmmaker is a woman and sympathetic to the plight of the helpless women, children, and old people whose voices are hardly ever heard when decisions are made about war.
The complex, ambivalent emotions and the deep-seated, long-standing conflicts among the Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims are captured in this film through the reactions of protagonists. In the end, even love cannot conquer whatever led to this war that started ages ago.
When the film first came out, I read an article in the Guardian written by a British war correspondent in Bosnia. She said this was the closest she ever saw a war film depict what war was really like and that situations in this film mirrored her own experiences. So, yes, we were prepared for the stark realities of a genocidal war.
But, for us, what was most astounding about the film is the sensitivity and understanding with which the director handled this film. Brilliant! The star Angelina Jolie is a serious, sensitive filmmaker, at least when it comes to a subject she obviously cares about. This film is not about her but about bringing to our awareness the awful personal ravages of war from an intelligent feminine perspective. Maybe, in the end, it will be such voices that can bring about the undoing of senseless wars.