Sunday, April 30, 2023

four quartets

Perhaps what makes T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets--a set of four poems, primarily written during WWII--so enduring is its meditative lyricism with occasional stabs of concrete imagery, that can be transposed to any time. 

In Sophie Fiennes's film version of Ralph Fiennes's (Sophie's brother) stage performance of Eliot's work, the lines come forward from the screen almost like mystical hoops of sound. Onstage, Fiennes is barefoot, dressed in dark pants and a grayish button-down, sometimes in a brown corduroy coat--his hair short and slicked back, his familiar eyes piercing. Except for a few expansive gestures of outstretched arms and shoulders rolling like waves, his movements are nominal. His delivery considers the music of Eliot's text, but doesn't simplistically over-emphasize it, all under the mellow resonance of his accent. I can imagine other actors--ones that perhaps aren't so akin to what is considered, stereotypically, as Shakespearean--reading Eliot's lines, playing this part, and perhaps creating something compelling, and more intriguing. But Fiennes's performance is excellent, a supple reading of the work--passionate, without burning too hot. 

Sophie Fiennes's sometimes intercuts the desolation of this presentation with lingering, tranquil images of nature (a verdant, but overgrown garden, an open pasture at dusk, a dark sea). This could be a respite from the starkness of the staging. It could be a reminder of the untouched, "transient beauty" of the natural world that is so consistently threatened by the devastation of humankind. A shot of sunlight beams on the surface of a brackish pond, threaded with branches, visually exhibiting Eliot's lines from "Little Gidding" arrestingly ("The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches, / In windless cold that is the heart's heat, / Reflecting in a watery mirror / A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon."). Rather than intrusive or obvious, I found these cues stirring, creating the sense of a true film out a staged play, knowing the intimacy of which within a theatre can never be replicated from watching onscreen, but haunting nevertheless, and one that can always be turned to again. ***

-Jeffery Berg

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