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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peter Brook = pretentious buffoon, film = slow but wonderful, 3 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Mahabharata [DVD] [1989] [1990] (DVD)
Watch the making of, and you'll see director/co-writer Peter Brook speak about his contempt for actors who seek personal fame, when they should put their career-making egos aside and focus instead on the work itself... yet Brook's name appears in giant letters on the box, and in the USA the DVD is even listed not as 'The Mahabharata,' but 'Peter Brook's The Mahabharata.' What a tool! Jean-Claude Carrière and Marie-Hélène Estienne apparently spent 8 years co-writing the screenplay with Brook, yet their names do not appear on the DVD front cover at all. The Making-of documentary includes footage with actress Mallika Sarabhai saying of Brook: "I didn't like him when I met him first; I found him extremely rude." and "He can be very precise, and cutting, and hurtful... and sometimes very unreasonable." Other actors hint at Brook's unprofessional and tiresome airs of self-importance, but seem too happy to be getting work to confront the guy signing their paychecks.

Anyone with experience in the theater or art world will recognize the stereotype of the guy who tells himself "My success proves I'm superior to other people, so I am justified in treating them as beneath me." Like so many famous artists, Peter Brook shows an above-average ability to communicate about grace in the abstract, but in his actual personal life is a graceless prick who mistreats the people around him.

Brook's icky personality aside, this film is excellent. The directing and camera-work are pedestrian; what makes this production sing is the fantastic cast (who say in interviews they create their own interpretations without input from Brook) and the genuine ingenuity in compressing all the most-crucial parts of the sweeping story into only 5 1/2 hours. This is really a filmed stage play rather than a film, so be ready for slow, deliberate pacing and near-zero special effects. I do wish Brook had been more faithful to the material and went with an all-Indian cast, rather than insisting on blemishing the material with his fingerprints by using an international cast (and the choice to not depict Krishna as blue-skinned is jarring and seems arbitrary). Having said that, the actors are all wonderful and the effect is not as distracting as I'd feared. This is the most accessible and truest-to-the-spirit version of the Mahabharata I've found in English, including B. R. Chopra's splashy television series and the strong but problematic prose translation by William Buck.

As others mention, check the listing carefully and be sure to get the full 5 1/2 hour version.
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