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Have I seen this film before?: Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd 2016)

She is a very young bride. She fidgets slightly, impatient, curious. The opening moments of Lady Macbeth are indeed memorable. They convey in close up the anticipation of this particular girl at what is about to happen. It is also essential that we understand her, that we get on her side. Wrapped in her translucent veil, half nun, half butterfly about to leave her cocoon, she’s on the verge. Her excitement is palpable, there’s no reticence about it. Then that weird, frustrating wedding night (call it unrequited sex). And then life hits her. I mean, what would you do?

Lady Macbeth is a gorgeous film. The first section gives us a perfect visual impression of what life must be for this young woman who “likes fresh air”. The empty, unadorned walls; the corridors with that grey northern light; the muffled sounds: the quiet servants; the cranky father. And that husband. But then the plot kicks in or at least it is supposed to. The intimacy, the sense of entrapment is perfectly depicted, but we don´t really understand why that or why at that particular point. There are things that need to be suggested, presented, between, say, exploring sexuality and killing one’s father in law. In Leskov’s novella, the first crime is cold blooded and explained through a particular psychology, but then there is a chain of events which is moral, but Leskov’s novella is a misoginist tale on criminal impulses. Here, events keep on being hinted or assumed, but, really, there is this almost wilful strategy to withhold momentum. And I don’t think misogyny was in the cards. But then just what is the film about)

OK, yes, it’s not that kind of movie. Not To Die For, for instance. Not that kind of performance. I get it. It’s more about stifling spaces and a woman trying to escape no matter why. It’s not even psychological, it’s just will power, so we don´t need to see much of an evolution. And this could be innovative or original were it not because we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen  these quiet characters whose actions are strangely omitted or barely justified in narrative terms. Films by Andrea Arnold, Jane Campion or Lynne Ramsay used similar approaches, with underdeveloped characters lost in precise contexts, with time slowly passing by, with skipping plot events or causal narration to convey something else. We’ve seen it in Wuthering Heights. We’ve seen it in Bright Star. And the question is, when does an intriguing approach to narrative, which feels original and challenging, becomes a cliché? I left the cinema feeling I would have enjoyed this film much more fifteen years ago, when it all seemed so new.