Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Name of the Rose (2011)

The Name of the RoseI never saw this film in the theatre. I saw it on TV many years ago and was enchanted with the medieval setting. I just recently got the DVD when I remembered the movie due to discussion of the book on an internet board I post on.

All I can say is that I am in awe of the work done by the director in bringing the book to the screen. The visuals alone express exactly the sense and the setting that Eco took pages and pages of info dump to allude to.

The size of the whole complex with small poorly clad men scuttling over it at the mercy of the weather accurately places man (in the understanding of the time) between cruel and capricious nature (i.e.: godlessness) and being dwarfed by the immense buildings dedicated to god, which represent his power and importance in the world, and the puny stature of man.

The dark interiors, lit only by fire highlight the fear, superstition and lack of education and outside contact that the average 'simple' person had. It made real the poverty and the terror and the precarious hold on life the people had, and how they would grasp at anything that promised safety and salvation. How it was so easy to believe in demons, and witches and other physical manifestations of their hard life. The strange look of the monks also represents the difficulty of surviving unscathed by disease, or accident.

At the ending of the medieval period the church had grown into a fat, rich, bloated institution more interested in temporal matters, and internal minutia (angels dancing on the head of a pin) than on acting as shepherds to god's flock.

The movie shows the Benedictine monks, the caretakers of the monastery and local flock, as those who started with a good heart, yet who uphold the status quo in fear rather than love. Because the times have changed, the flock's needs have multiplied, and the monks have not, they end up going through the motions of the religious life during the day, with venality creeping in during the dark hours: Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Lust, Acquisitiveness, and Selfishness.

Rather than copy and disburse books to uplift the darkness they hide them away, and prevent the spread of learning; keeping the knowledge as secret treasure for the select within the monastery. There are gradations of the select within the walls, leaving the monks in competition to become 'more select', rather than focusing on the needs of their flock, and god's work. All they do is dump refuse through their sewer and make the people scramble like animals to survive.

This is the setting upon which the future role of the church and god's place in man's affairs is to be debated, in the guise of the question `was Jesus poor? ` Where the regular church people are too afraid of change, and being branded heretics, yet no longer can really believe in the simple answers and rituals of the past, or rely on their superiors for good guidance.

The papal delegation, the Dominicans, are rich, fat, and far above the ordinary life of the monks or the 'simple' peasants. They do not wish to give up the wealth, the life of luxury, the ability to satisfy every personal whim, and the temporal power over kings, states, and the simple peasants that the current state of the church bestows on them. Within their ranks is an Inquisitor, the judge, and jury they use to keep any who question them in line, with threats of torture, horrible death, and damnation. They use the Inquisitor to stamp out those who have drunk at the deadly cup of ancient knowledge and who are beginning to question and think for themselves.

The Franciscans are the group who represent change, the desire to be free of the trappings of the past, who want to minister to the needs of the people both physical and spiritual and leave power and wealth to Caesar. They are concerned about the good and bad of the knowledge that can lead one to sin, but they are not all the same and not all want the books hidden or destroyed. Some believe that using the reason god gave them, they will find more to worship the creator for. Though their oldest member, Ubertino shows that they come from the same past as the Benedictines.

The deaths and murders in the monastery are the outward manifestation of unease, sin, and the breakdown of real belief in the past solutions the church is preaching. Enter William of Baskerville, and his young novice, who represent the coming of the renaissance, the coming of reason, knowledge and enlightenment. They move within the rhythms of the monastery, while staying true to their own beliefs. They try to set the wrongs to right, and move the Benedictines to open their library and disburse the knowledge they hoard, while winning the dispute with the papal legation, and ultimately staying alive. In some they are successful, and in some they are not much like life.

I can't give the movie 5 stars, because too little time and context was set up so that the viewer who had not read the book would understand what the debate stood for, and what the Greek book stood for. Without those clues, the movie seems a lot of to-do about some really trivial matters, yet they are still issues we are struggling with today.

This is a movie that you can watch over and over, and pick up and revel in all the details, as well as the wonderful performances. There are some who think Gui, and Salvatore are over the top, but in fact they are needed as they show real human passion escaping from the control of a repressed setting. The sex scene is also needed for the story and really rather beautiful.

The movie actually led me to read the book, and I think that those who complain about the movie being different don't understand that the movie must be visual, and that what they think is lacking in the story is mostly presented in the visuals. I agree with the director who said The Name of The Rose is a bestseller which most who purchase don't read, and that if you can read and understand the book, you can also understand and appreciate the movie. The quibble about the ending is really a matter of your preference for the tone, hopeful, or not.

The director's commentary and the documentary on the making of the movie are very good, as is the director's photo tour. The music, sets, lighting, and cinematography are magnificent.

Viewers may arrive to Jean-Jacques Annaud's film from different directions, and, consequently, have various opinions. For those who Umberto Eco's book was so good that they couldn't get enough of it, Annaud may be a little disappointing--it may be argued indeed that the film conceded too much to the movie-goer's taste and deviated from the book. Let's save this polemic for other fora...

For those viewers who like at least one of the following: (1) a good 'whodunnit' movie; (2) a credible transposition of the medieval church environment (i.e. Western European / Catholic) in film; (3) an intriguingly good film that captivates an open mind, regardless of educated props and such, this film is indeed an event. To the first point, suffice it to say this film keeps the plot the same as in the book--and a lot has been written about the latter. In support of the other points, I should say Annaud's film is an audio-visual delight that strives for authenticity and manages to achieve it quite well. The monastic environment where everything takes place is elaborately recreated with means such as the wonderful chorals performed by the actors themselves, medieval-styled clothing (make and fabric), lighting, replicas of medieval books, and so much more. Plenty of food for imagination!

There is one exception one may take from the approach in which the film's author decided to cast the characters. Despite their having distinct physiognomies, one may say, they are distinctively ugly. A matter of taste or maybe commerce? The two overlooked (indirect) advantages of such casting are well worth mentioning. Most actors were far away from mainstream, and they speak in an English accented by their own tongues. What a suggestive allusion to an environment in which Latin was spoken with accents!

The added benefit of this DVD, relative to the tape versions, comes with the inclusion of an interview with the director and details about how the film was made. One's appreciation of this film can only increase upon learning the details that went into making the film. I found only one aspect lacking: the quality of the digital image shows the film's date by missing digital remastering. Most probably, the producer of this version was tentative about its success--I hope they will reconsider and put more resources into it. Given its list-price, this DVD is well worth the money though!

...the rose of yesterday remains [only] through its name...

Buy The Name of the Rose (2011) Now

The Name of the Rose is a great film, though some may think it slow. One of its best attributes is its realism. Its' characters really seem like they stepped out of the middle ages. These characters look, speak, and act as one might expect from this age.

It is an excellent production as well. The plot and dialogue are thoughtful. The visual scenery helps much to set a proper mood. It is graphic enough to have the kind of impact it needs as a mystery/suspense movie. Its' plot evolves nicely as the mystery of the Abbey unfolds. Every actor, particularly Connery and Slater, delivers a sound performance. Each character displays the seriousness one would expect from members of medieval religious orders, yet their emotions do show through at times, revealing the feelings that reside behind their clerical exteriors. This film is outstanding.

Read Best Reviews of The Name of the Rose (2011) Here

At last this great film has been released on dvd.

A medieval monastery may not sound like a setting for a thriller, yet this is what Arnaud achieves. In the film (and in the book on which the film is based, sometimes losely) Brother William of Baskerville (played by Sean Connery), a Franciscan monk, is asked by the abbot of an abbey in North Italy early in the 14th century to investigate a suspicious death. During William's stay in the abbey, more suspicious deaths happen, which all seem to be connected. Although the monks seem inclined to blame the devil or other supernatural forces, William is the prototype of a rational person putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Thus William finds that the deaths have something to do with one or more books which are being copied by monks in the library of the monastery. But he is not allowed to see the books in question.

This is where this film starts to transcend being merely a very good thriller. The action happens early in the 1300s at a time when there is no printing yet and all manuscripts have to be laboriously copied, a process which can take years and obviously limits the distribution of books to extremely few (it was not untypical for a royal library in the Middle Ages to have only 10 books...). The typical place where books where copied was in monasteries.

Yet here comes the rub : from the 13th century onwards a number of writings by Greek philosophers, in particular Aristoteles (repeatedly referred to in the film), are being rediscovered in Europe (often via muslim scholars in Spain) after having been lost for more than a thousand years. Aristoteles had advocated that there is a rational anwer to everything. Aristoteles' main philosophical opponent (although he was a pupil) was Plato who argued that the human soul was separate from reality. Saint Augustine (354 386 A.D.), who probably shaped Christian beliefs more in the first millennium than anyone, had relied heavily on Plato to emphasise that what mattered was the soul, that trying to give a rational explanation to events was tantamount to denying that God created the World. The result was a Christianity which for more than a thousand years was averse to rational scientific discovery. Until Thomas Acquinas (1225 1274 A.D, who is mentioned directly and indirectly in the film) wrote possibly the most influential book of the second millennium in the Western world, the Summa Theologica. The book, soon endorsed by the pope (who was a family member...) argued that there was nothing wrong with rationality, because the more we research the more we would find out how well God made the world and as a result we would be even more in awe of the Creation (it only took a few centuries for the Church and science to clash anyway, but by then the genie was out of the bottle).

The film The Name of the Rose depicts this most crucial of all times in Western civilisation when knowledge about rational Greek philosophies started to seep through where books were copied in monasteries and other centers of knowledge but was kept unknown or was fought in a futile rearguard action. This is where the latent conflict resides : the Church initially believed it had nothing to gain from rationality, a philosophy which would seek its own answers instead of accepting as gospel the Church teachings. William of Baskerville has clearly already been converted to rationality and is the prototype of the new rational Western man, but the authorities of the abbey, who have locked away copies of manuscripts by Aristoteles in a secret tower in the abbey, are resolutely hostile to its dissemination. William stands for science, rationality and fairness, while the old guard stands for superstition (belief in witches, that burning cleanses the soul etc...), inquisition etc...

If you want to know how and why the dark middle ages evolved into renaissance, this film, apart from being a damn good thriller and also probably the most authentic depiction of medieval life (Arnaud apparently went as far as extracting tooth filling from some actors to make them look more real medieval...), will give you the best introduction.

A must

Want The Name of the Rose (2011) Discount?

This movie is based on the book of the same name by Umberto Eco and the movie does an EXCELLENT job of interpreting the book. The movie describes the events of a one-week period inside a monastery in Italy in the early 14th century. During this week, seven monks die in mysterious ways and somehow the deaths are tied into the life of the monastery and are also linked to the existence of forbidden books hidden away in the monastery's library. An extremely creative genius crafted this tale and the acting is superb. Sean Connery plays a visiting monk from the British Isles who is a product of the emerging renaissance a scholar, a practicioner of logic, and even a former inquisitor. He begins to unravel the mystery of the deaths and also what is at the core of what has gone wrong in the monastery. The rest of the cast is great! My suggestion: find and read the book by Umberto Eco, and then watch the film. The film will bring the book to life and you will want to keep the DVD in your home library... Enjoy!

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