TIFF 2011: Coriolanus and The Burning Man

TIFF 2011: Coriolanus and The Burning Man featured image

TIFF 2011
September 12, 2011
Men in Crisis
Highlighting: Coriolanus and The Burning Man

By Marc Glassman

TIFF 2011 is filled with such a wealth of fine cinema from around the world that it’s tempting to organize the best of them into programmes of one’s own.

Here’s a double bill that could be created out of two of TIFF’s Special Presentations: Men in Crisis– Coriolanus and The Burning Man. Both feature spectacular performances by their leads.

Ralph Fiennes originated his interpretation of Shakespeare’s underrated tragedy of a great Roman general undone his arrogance on stage eleven years ago and has spent years turning Coriolanus into a self-directed film. Matthew Goode was a neophyte back when Fiennes first took on the role of Coriolanus but the young actor has clearly has developed his talents since then and is a knockout as Tom, a chef and single father dealing with grief in The Burning Man.

Fiennes offers a Coriolanus worthy of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. Without a revelatory soliloquy, Fiennes makes his character come alive as a soldier and man of honour whose simple nobility makes his mistakes all too credible. We see his brute power and force as a leader in battle and realize that his success in life has been due to his egotism and decisiveness. It becomes perfectly clear why it’s impossible to put such a man into a situation where he has to ask for approval from the “people” to be made Consul of Rome. Nothing in his background has led him to accept democratic principles.

As a director, Fiennes has boldly placed the film in contemporary times. We view CNN-like newscasts as tales of civil strife over lack of grain and wars against the Volscians take place. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd–well known for The Hurt Locker–shoots the battle scenes in a bravura ultra modern style. Serbia is the inspired locale of the film, a place where awful warfare has recently occurred. Coriolanus is an impressive film, which spectacularly comes alive in scenes between Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave playing his Volumnia, his politically cunning mother. Rarely has a relationship between a mother and son been so fraught with complexity or so brilliantly played out.

The Burning Man doesn’t boast the pedigree of a Shakespeare adaptation but Jonathan Teplitzky’s original screenplay has a hyperbolic pace and variety of tone that allows Matthew Goode the opportunity to seize the leading role and make it his own. Moving frenetically over a period of nine years, we see Goode’s character Tom go through the birth and death of a key relationship–and its effect on his life. Tom is a visceral man, someone who loves food, drinking and women. To him, everything must be spectacular, whether it’s playing out anger or lust or simply having a great meal on the beach. It’s a role for a young actor at the top of his game–and that’s Mr. Goode, who was previously quite exceptional playing opposite Colin Firth in A Single Man.

At different points in their careers, Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode make their films must-sees at TIFF 2011.

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