" Oh come come now. Just because you sold your soul to the devil, that needn’t make you a teetotaler. "
— Edward Arnold, The Devil and Daniel Webster

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

Sponsored links

Director Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves) made Medea in 1988. He had been working in television for some time, but he hadn’t yet directed Zentropa (AKA Europa), which would earn him international acclaim four years later. Nevertheless, his rich, dark, troubled style was already taking shape.

Funky Cold Medea

Von Trier is in complete control of the tragedy of Medea
Von Trier is in complete control of the tragedy of Medea

Based on a script by the great Carl-Theodor Dreyer Medea is a relatively faithful telling of the Greek myth. Medea helped Jason get the golden fleece, after which they traveled together and had two sons. But Jason eventually took another wife, and Medea, to get back at him, killed his new bride, then killed her own sons by Jason.

This version strips away the machinations of the gods and leaves the very human story of ambition and jealousy. von Trier also fills in what’s missing from the myth, namely, the effect Medea’s filicide had on Jason. Mythologist Edith Hamilton merely says he was angry. von Trier says it drove him mad.

Some art-house Scandinavian movies are cryptic, and some that are shot on video (the Dogme 95) just look cheap. Not Medea, which can be appreciated by anyone who studied mythology, and which is visually rich, dark, and exact.

Medea is not rated, but there is some nudity, and there are some (aptly) distressing scenes of death, so watch it after the kids have gone to bed.

Picture and Sound

Medea is expressionist, meaning the subject’s emotions are reflected in the atmosphere. Standing in for Greece are the cold, windy marshes of Scandinavia. Color is washed out; all is brown, gray, and drab. The only bright spot in the movie is a sunny moment when Medea is promised passage off the island.

Von Trier and cinematographer Sejr Brockmann shoot on video, not film. For most people, this would be a huge compromise, but von Trier and Brockmann work miracles with the image. From the opening shot, they shows they’re in complete control. The picture quality never rises above video, but the cinematography — color, texture, composition, and movement — is outstanding. And since the source material is lower resolution than DVD, There is nothing in the source that DVD can’t reproduce.

The sound is mostly dialogue and brooding music by Joachim Holbek. The sleeve doesn’t say how it’s encoded but it sounds like mono. Your surround-sound amp will probably be able to make it surround-sound.

DVD Extras

There are no extras on this DVD. The most notable thing about this Facets release is that, except for a short theatrical run in New York and Denver in 2003, Medea has been unavailable in the United States until now.

Conclusion

If you’ve seen and loved Dancer in the Dark or Breaking the Waves, you know what talent Lars von Trier has. Medea shows that he had that talent many years before he made it big. For you, Medea is a must-see. The low resolution of the source material may turn off some “film-snob” viewers (myself included, or so I thought), but what von Trier does with it is inspiring.