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Thessaloniki, Part 2

Chances are John Malkovich might have been in a sour mood during  his master class, the legions of statuesque female fans notwithstanding. At the ceremony where he received the Golden Alexander he thanked, among other worthies, British Airways for "helping me to evade my tendency to overdress by losing my luggage." Otherwise he seemed gracious and pleased by the encomia heaped on him by the presenters, who hailed his ability to merge into a role using various hairpieces, though they didn't mention any in particular or show any clips (ironically, they did screen "Being John Malkovich," in which he plays himself in the most solipsistically way possible).

Speaking of challenging roles, one of the festival's more intriguing offerings was the 1920-21 silent version of "Hamlet" in which the title role is played by the great Danish actress Asta Nielsen. Hamlet had been played by a woman before in silent cinema (Sarah Bernhardt in 1912, which is alluded to in one of the other festival offerings, the Romanian serio-comic epic "The Rest is Silence"), but in this version Hamlet IS a woman. In a complicated prologue (the film bears little resemblance to the Shakespeare play) Gertrud is giving birth as her husband, Hamlet senior, apparently has been mortally wounded while defeating the Norwegian King Fortinbras.The child turns out to be a girl, so to insure the succession Gertrude pretends it is a boy. When Hamlet senior returns alive, they have to continue the deception.

And so years later the transgendered Hamlet emerges, played by Nielsen. I couldn't quite put my finger on who she reminded me of: a little Margeret Hamilton, Cesare the sleepwalker from "Dr. Caligari," maybe Andy Dick. The sex change definitely has an effect on the story's dynamics, though to what point is unclear. Made during the heyday of Freudian analysis, it seems to posit an alternative to the Oedipal situation in which Claudius serves as Hamlet's projection, killing his father and marrying his mother. Here the problem is more Elektra-fied, as Hamlet the melancholy Dame loves Horatio, the surrogate of her dead father. I don't know if it was a good film or not, but it is a must-see, especially for the (unintentionally?) comic scenes near the end where Hamlet daintily tries to conceal her decolletage from her best friend Horatio.


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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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