Sunday, May 24, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Vinterberg, a contemporary of Lars von Trier,  directs a new version of "Far from the Madding Crowd" and does it with swiftness and style. This one is true to the spirit of Thomas Hardy in showing humanity imperiled by a seething and unforgiving world where Nature is nonetheless depicted as abundant and rich.

Carey Mulligan stars as Bathsheba Everdene, a fiery and direct head of a farm with wild and whipping hair, not to mention leather riding boots.

Bathsheba bears a striking resemblance in aura to Katniss of "The Hunger Games" and it is too much of a coincidence that the two share an almost identical last name. Both heroines are outspoken and strive to control.

But here we are in the arable universe of Dorset in 1870 of course. Bathsheba encounters Gabriel Oak, excellently played by Matthias Schoenaerts of the disturbingly powerful film "Bullhead". When giving her a gift of a lamb, Gabriel asks for Bathsheba's hand in marriage.

She refuses.

Gabriel, the silent type, sublimates his desire and takes to the crops, raking,pruning, baking and bleeding. The hard earth matches the brown weariness that shows on his face.

One day while working she is confronted by the wealthy William Boldman (Michael Sheen) who asks of marriage himself.

Again, Bathsheba refuses.

Vinterberg perfectly captures the unsparing and sharp circumstances that can befall any and every Thomas Hardy protagonist. Mulligan is as fierce and hard as cast iron but we also see the sadness on her face. Her tears show as mere frost. Bathsheba is never one to pine.

A standout performance is given by Tom Sturridge as Frank Troy, the repressed soldier with a sociopathic streak whom she does marry. At once feline, loutish, obsessed by honor in combat, yet oddly ineffectual, Sturridge nearly steals the show.

The tone of the film is flawless in showing Miss Everdene batted about by the selfish folly of men like a molten fireball, while still holding to her self sufficient code. After each pitfall, after Man bares his worst face, the natural world recharges itself showing its green tapestry, as if to restore Everdene's faith in all things human. Such notes are very true to the Hardy canon.

A touch of Lars von Trier is present too. When Gabriel loses his sheep to a rogue dog, the flock leaps to their doom: the bloody bodies spell a kind of ovine alphabet in their positions of death, foretelling of trials to come. This shot could have been taken right from von Trier's "Antichrist".

Aside from all orchestral swells, the score is apropos to the genre and narrative. But above all, "Far from the Madding Crowd" is a authentic and satisfying addition to the many cinematic interpretations of Thomas Hardy in showing one woman continually bitten by the hardness of Male Nature.

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