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Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Produced in 1970
Main Language - Italian with English subtitles
Maria Callas is magnetic as the lead in Pasolini's mythical tale of love, betrayal and revenge based on Euripides' play. It's vivid, spare and striking, says Michael Brooke.
It might seem the height of perversity to take one of her generation's greatest dramatic sopranos and give her a lead role in which she doesn't sing a note (especially given that the barbarian sorceress Medea was one of Maria Callas's signature roles, via the Cherubini opera), but Pier Paolo Pasolini was never one to follow convention. Callas had in fact retired from the operatic stage a few years earlier, but Pasolini was primarily interested in her intuitive understanding of how to convey wrenching tragedy through gesture and minutely controlled facial expression alone.
His adaptation of Euripides' play covers the familiar narrative elements of the myth, but strips the verbal content down to barest essentials, and stages the events in an arid, timeless desert environment of a kind familiar from his other films (notably Oedipus Rex and Arabian Nights), but harsher and wilder, where crops need fresh blood from a human sacrifice to grow, and where life is conducted according to a series of elaborate rituals that make the opening scenes simultaneously mystifying and riveting. In particular, the lack of narration or any scene-setting titles make the film look more like an ethnographic documentary than any kind of classical tragedy: as Pasolini's biographer Enzo Siciliano put it, 'Medea embodies pre-history, where one lives by the senses alone, and where nature is a bundle of dark and inexplicable forces.'
When the warrior Jason invades her kingdom with the aim of snatching the symbolic golden fleece to help depose his uncle from the throne of Greece, he becomes her lover, a relationship that triggers a collision between Jason's notions of 'civilisation' and 'rationality' and Medea's far more ancient and instinctive responses, which don't take kindly to being effectively straitjacketed in the garb of a docile Greek housewife. Once a natural balance that has evolved over millennia becomes disrupted like this, their story can only end in tragedy - Medea has already been compelled to murder her own brother in order to help Jason achieve his aims, and Pasolini assumes advance knowledge of the ultimate fate of both herself and those around her.
Michael Brooke on 15th November 2011
Author of 135 reviews
A mythical tale of love, betrayal and revenge, Medea is an intense retelling of the Greek myth through a series of set pieces which ravish the eye as much as anything else Pasolini accomplished. Adapted from Euripides' drama, Pasolini's disturbing vision of personal and national conflict stars operatic legend Maria Callas in the title role, offering an extraordinary performance as the high priestess Medea whose love is threatened by corrupt political ambition.
A vivid and aesthetically challenging vision, Medea is a complex blend of classical mythology and contemporary social criticism, featuring a magnetic performance from Maria Callas.
Length: 106 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 widescreen
Cat No: BFIB1088
Format: DVD+Blu-ray Colour
- 2 discs
- Dual Format Edition
- Presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
- Original Italian language version plus alternative English language dub
- Original Italian and English trailers
- Illustrated booklet with critical writing, biography and film credits.