Film Reviews

Review: ‘King Lear’

Hot Docs 2018


King Lear
(Russia, 56 minutes)
Dir: Denis Klebleev
Programme: Artscapes. (International Premiere)

Retired actor Viktor Rotin wants to play King Lear. At 86, he’s finally the right age, and he has the passion. In Denis Klebeev’s documentary, we watch as Rotin meditates upon this beloved play, and what he perceives to be his destined role. But as the film unfolds, the actor’s interests become increasingly enigmatic.

Rotin has a drive to play Shakespeare and he has evident skill. He slips in and out of monologues seamlessly, something which is only natural given his obsession. It’s not just that Rotin thinks it’s a great part, but that he identifies with the character. It goes beyond age. He connects himself to what he interprets as a proud, yet wronged, benevolent monarch, and he feels betrayed by his ex-wife and daughter, whom he compares to the greedy Goneril and Regan.

Klebeev’s King Lear then becomes interesting because of its focus on Rotin. Viewers are subsumed into his perspective, with nothing outside to challenge it. Rotin is clearly conceited. He views himself as never in the wrong, always the victim, and so if he says that he was scorned by his family members, we hear no counterpoint. Rotin is equally always right. When he goes to a lecture on Shakespeare and interrupts the Q&A for more-of-a-comment-than-a-question, which supposes that every other actor who has played Lear has gotten the emotions wrong and that he himself could do it right, he is not challenged. There are laughs, there is awkwardness, but he’s never silenced or corrected.

In this way we have a fuller portrait of the man. His singular personality is enough to show us multiple sides: his passion is also obsession, his intellect and extroversion are also narcissistic, his quirks can be both humorous and disturbing. On his own terms we see all sides of Rotin, by what he reveals to us.

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