LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK (Petr Weigl, 1992)

Dmitri Shostakovich and Alexander Preis’s four-act opera, based on Nikolai Leskov’s nineteenth-century novella, has been cut, but Czech-born Petr Weigl’s 100-minute film version, vacuous and unfocused, is too long already. Weigl has nothing to show, nothing to say. His is certainly vastly inferior to Andrzej Wajda’s non-singing 1961 version of the Leskov story, a film I also don’t like.
     My principal objection to Wajda’s black-and-white version is its unsympathetic portrayal of Katerina in order to shoehorn her into a simplistic, perhaps misogynistic, morality play. She is vastly more sympathetic in the Weigl film, which indeed focuses on her feelings in an unhappy arranged marriage; but to no benefit! The original film does not take into account, or does not seem to take into account, Katerina’s plight in a patriarchal society where, at the marital level, the husband rules the roost and, at every other level, the woman has little or no access to self-expression. But how is Weigl’s version in this matter any better? Yes, Katerina isn’t so plainly denounced for murdering her father-in-law and spouse, but, stripped of all social context, her crimes remain “all in the family,” and it was never murder that I was advocating, only attempting to fathom in the context of a society that frustrated women by permitting them so little freedom.
     Nor is there anything else to commend Weigl’s film except that it is a film rather than a filmed production of the opera. Lady Macbeth von Mzensk is a German film in which Czech actors flap their gums as Russian voices pour out. I don’t mind any of that, but, preposterously, the film is in color.
     There is also a lot of gratuitous nudity, mostly male.
     Stalin banned the opera, and Shostakovich feared for his life.

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