For many, the names of King Arthur and Camelot evoke romantic scenes from Arthur’s early exploits, such as the sword in the stone or the arm in the lake. But Malory’s tale, like earlier versions before it, is titled The Death of Arthur, and unlike the tales of such heroes as Robin Hood or Zorro is always fundamentally a tragedy.
More, it is a tale of fellowship undone not first of all by the treachery of enemies but by the frailty of human nature itself, even of the most trusted intimates. Perhaps that’s partly why classic Hollywood forayed more successfully into Sherwood Forest and Zorro’s California than Camelot.
Robert Bresson’s challenging Lancelot du Lac cuts to the heart of the Arthurian tragedy. Bresson strips away all the early grandeur and glory of Camelot, leaving only the demoralized foundering in the wake of the failed Grail quest, the joyless struggles of Lancelot (Luc Simon) between his aspirations toward God and his adulterous love for Guinevere (Laura Duke Condominas), the deadly banality of the verbal skirmishes of loyal Gawaine (Humbert Balsan) and treacherous Mordred (Patrick Bernard), and a mounting sense of hopeless foreboding.
Bresson’s Arthur (Vladimir Antolek-Oresek), like the ineffectual King David of the stories of Amnon and Tamar and Absalom, is very far from the commanding golden warrior he is often thought of as. Both kings were decisive and charismatic in their public lives, but somehow halting and incapable in their private lives, and for both it was their undoing.
Like the last act of Malory’s tale, Lancelot of the Lake is a grim testament to the weakness of the flesh, of the fallenness of this world in which we can have no lasting city.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.