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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Antigone"

2017/08/12 | 318 views |  | Permalink

The trappings of Mythological Greece are traded for those of Baekje from the Three Kingdoms Period of Korea in "Antigone", which adapts the classic Greek play to a Korean environment while still keeping all of the essential themes intact. The main change is just that Baekje is more obviously doomed than Thebes. The Baekje royal family has fallen, and the survivors are stuck on a boat. Extra historical context in the opening titles doesn't make that picture any rosier.

"Antigone" accurately captures the sentiment of the original Greek play, and in some ways even exceeds it. The very real stakes the characters are playing with emphasize that their hubris has serious consequences, even if they choose to define hubris as honor. The characters are choosing to draw a lie in the sand mainly because in their ultimate moment of powerlessness, they feel the need to control something at least.

And yet we see this contradicted in the subtler touches, like how the camera is always weaving, mimicking the movements of the ocean waves. Metaphorically this shows to us how none of the characters are really in control of their fate, however much they may pretend otherwise. There's a definite fatalism in all the one-sided conversations we see, so it's no surprise that these extended character monologues are wholly incapable of changing anyone's mind.

It is also, on a stylistic level, extremely dense material with virtually no similarity to the kinds of stories we commonly consume today. Anyone expecting a South Korean historical drama out of "Antigone" will be sorely disappointed. The staging is minimal- costumes, but no sets. What's more there's no plot to speak of. Just characters talking to each other defiantly about the meaning of honor indefinitely.

On the technical level "Antigone" is a more objective disappointment. The camera's too far away from faces for us to have any idea how well the characters are emoting. The lighting is obviously designed for a play rather than a movie- because again, we can't really see anyone's faces. There's no variety in direction, which is weird, considering there are three different directors, one for each act. The main difference between acts is the amount of light used. Each new act with darker lighting than the last.

Was that to signify time? Or clouded character perceptions? In either case, while the thematic intent is obvious, that doesn't make "Antigone" any easier to watch in execution. Remember the shaky camera movement I mentioned earlier? It sounds like a good idea in theory, but in practice I felt mostly annoyed and nauseous, wishing that the camera would just stay still and let me focus on what was happening for a moment.

Which really, is how I feel about older plays in general. I understand what's going on and I can see how they're important to our understanding of dramatic form, but honestly? It's just too different from anything consumed today to really be evaluated on the same terms. "Antigone" exhausted me- and it will probably exhaust you too, provided you somehow manage to locate a copy of it.

Review by William Schwartz

"Antigone" is directed by Kang Eok-seok, Kim Sung-pum, Park Seo-yeon-I, and features Park Seo-yeon-I, Lee Dong-hyun-III, Kang Tae-eon, Lee Doo-sung and Hong Se-eun.

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