Sunday, August 1, 2010

Baaria (2009)

Giuseppe "Cinema Paradiso" Tornatore's Golden Globe-nominated epic is grand in its ambition and abysmally abject in its execution. As derivative as the director's Oscar-winning cheese-fest-homage to cinema, Baaria is so inept at telling an interesting story from all the calamitous events that Italy has gone through in the 20th century, somebody should just stop him from making these films.

This is the story of Peppino, from his precocious childhood, through his courtship of the improbably beautiful Mannina in his youth, his entry into the Communist Party, and his older years as a respected town councilman.

There is a wealth of material to explore here, such as the young Peppino refusing to stand up during the Italian national anthem at school or little touches of magical realism (actors show up as different characters - very Garcia Marquez-light), but Tornatore just rushes from one scene to another, desperate to fit in as much redundant nuances form Peppino's life as he possibly can. He manages that just fine. Along the way, any character development is sacrificed for bland humour and a little pat-in-the-back.

This is a typical example of a "national cinema". American cinema is just as accused of this as any other - films where only the locals will really appreciate and bathe themselves in a masturbatory self-congratulation of their own culture. Narcissism in its most extreme form.

Every frame, every snippet of dialogue is aimed at the Italian (or Sicilian) national identity and it's sickening, really. It is obvious that so much money has been spent on this (€28m, according to imdb) and it has covered its costs and more (which is all the more sickening).

It is shot like an advert and I was expecting to see an olive oil / beer / cheese brand's logo during its butt-numbing 2.5 hours of running time - you can practically "eat" those mountains and rocks. But, it feels artificial and very, very self-aware. Every scene ends with a soundbite that is supposed to be a little witty banter about the idiosyncrasies of the times. But even the most abject conditions or events are swept under the rug with an elaborate aim at wrapping everything in bubble-gum: tens of miners were shot by the police, but look how beautiful our mountains are.

Let's not even go to the ending where Tornatore throws the curviest of curve balls and buries his dung-scented film in the deepest of trenches. It was all a dream ... no, wait ... we're still in the magical realism mood ... and who is that kid .... oh, and the fly survived. I'm not even going to explain what it all means.

The uber-narcissism continues in the end credits: after the last fade-out (there are about 5 bajillion fade-outs throughout), the title Baaria is spelt in all its golden, gargantuan Roman font (as if this was a swords and sandals epic), which is followed by the director's name in the same font, albeit slightly smaller. It doesn't say "by Giuseppe Tornatore", "Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore", or "Director - Giuseppe Tornatore". No, it just says "Giuseppe Tornatore". The man thinks he is a brand on his own. Who does that?

Don't ever see this.

The only redeemable things in all this mess were Angela Molina (whose dialogue was very badly dubbed) and a blink-and-you-miss-it Monica Bellucci cameo.

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