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LOCARNO 2023 Piazza Grande

Review: I Am Not What I Am – The Tragedy of Othello by W. Shakespeare


- Italian director Edoardo Leo transports the eternal Shakespearean tale of intrigue and jealousy to modern-day Italy, but the result is tedious and fundamentally predictable

Review: I Am Not What I Am – The Tragedy of Othello by W. Shakespeare
Edoardo Leo (left) and Jawad Moraqib in I Am Not What I Am – The Tragedy of Othello by W. Shakespeare

Unfolding retrospectively, I Am Not What I Am - The Tragedy of Othello by W. Shakespeare [+see also:
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, which premiered in the Piazza Grande section of the Locarno Film Festival, tells the story of Othello amidst the surroundings of a shabby port district of Italy from the viewpoint of the repentant Iago, who reconstructs the tragic events of 20 years prior in front of the police. Edoardo Leo, who scripted and directed the film, as well as playing Iago, tries to stay as close as possible to the original text by also using Roman and Neapolitan dialects. The result is a tedious, two-hour-long and fundamentally predictable crime-drama which does not really add anything to Shakespeare’s work through an innovative interpretation, but rather leeches off its popularity while pretending to lend it a new voice. Moreover, the convoluted Shakespearian language and the general glorification feel somewhat artificially connected to the dialogue when it relates to characters living amid a litany of drug abuse and petty crime, giving it a grotesque tone.

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After the opening scene, as the aged Iago begins his narration, the action is thrust back in time, and we witness an episode of seemingly gratuitous violence caused by him in a butcher's shop, apparently introducing us to the type of setting in which the events will take place. What at first glance might seem to be a mafia clan instead turns out to be a street gang of unrestrained men engaged in trivial dirty deals and mostly spending their time drinking, snorting drugs and having hurried sex in toilets. The women around them are hardly shown in a brighter light, apart from the young and innocent-looking Desdemona (Ambrosia Caldarelli), who is married to the dark-skinned Othello (Jawad Moraqib), to everyone's surprise and envy. Following the original plot’s structure, Iago’s bitterness and discontent weave a web of events and intrigue that awaken animalistic jealousy in Othello and drive him to the foretold tragic denouement.

Perhaps the greatest cinematic merit of the film is the building of a suitable atmosphere in sync with the dark passions that govern the characters. Poorly lit, claustrophobic interiors and tenebrous exteriors fall under the gaze of DoP Marco Bassano’s camera as if designed to imply an impasse from the first scene to the last dead-end situation. On the other hand, the uniform colour tones – a grey-brownish palette – add to the monotony of the on-screen action, which, despite the turbulence of the fable, fails to build up sufficient intrigue or suspense. As for the alleged commentary on male-female relationships, pathological misogyny and the possibility of referencing the increasingly hot topic of domestic violence, this latest cinematic version of Othello hints at their presence no more in modern times than the original play did in the era when it was written. A deeper analytical connection between then and now is not made in this formulaic and unfortunately bloodless adaptation, despite the amount of blood seen spattered on screen.

I Am Not What I Am - The Tragedy of Othello by W. Shakespeare is a production by Italy’s Groenlandia and Italian International Film; Vision Distribution handles the distribution and international sales.

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