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VENICE 2009 Competition / Italy

Tornatore’s broad Sicilian canvas, Baarìa, opens fest

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Tornatore’s broad Sicilian canvas, Baarìa, opens fest

It had been ages since Italy opened – and in competition, yet – the Venice Film Festival (September 2-12): a big responsibility for Giuseppe Tornatore. He was on the Lido last night to present the world premiere of his latest film, Baarìa [+see also:
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]
.

No novice at humongous productions (The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean), this time the director of the Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso – after a relatively low-budget interlude with The Unknown [+see also:
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– has come up with the most expensive production in recent Italian cinema.

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It’s an epic gallop across four decades of Italian history, which never swerves from the country roads and fields around the Italian town of Bagheria (called “Baaria” in the local dialect and here accurately reconstructed in Tunisia), yet manages to cover Fascism and the post-war economic boom, touching on everything between the years before the Great War to the present day.

All of this seen through the eyes of Peppino and Mannina (played as adults by newcomers Francesco Scianna and Margareth Madè): a love story that does not sit well with her parents, due to her beau’s communist convictions as he throws himself into Italian politics after WWII. Accompanying the two young leads, in a stream of images that flows across the last century from start to finish, are three generations of characters: a group portrait of a society suspended between the archaic past and modern times.

“An artist can only talk about the things he knows, and feels profoundly connected to”, says the voiceover as the closing credits come up: and there’s no doubt that Tornatore, who lived in Bagheria till the age of 28, has drawn on his own early years to depict – often by means of swift brush strokes (brief appearances by an endless A-list of Italian actors, often in minor roles) – a crowded cast of characters, from the young couple’s relatives to the town’s inhabitants and the politicians currying local votes (Michele Placido, competing here in Venice with The Big Dream [+see also:
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, plays a Communist MP).

A baroque ‘amarcord’ by an auteur aiming to turn autobiography into epic (Peppino and Mannina’s son grows up with a camera in his hand, just like the young Tornatore), Baarìa is the sum of all Tornatore’s films. At once a sweeping historical canvas (to the evocative strains of Ennio Morricone’s score) – and a study in miniatures, the film is at its best at its most anecdotal.

For Tornatore also wrote the script, and it shows: he retrieves from the pool of memory (his own, and that of the places the film re-evokes) real-life figures like painter Renato Guttuso as well as mythological beings (la statuesque Monica Bellucci, who reprises Malèna as the Sicilian male’s object of desire. Plus real situations (the shooting of the 1962 film Mafioso by Alberto Lattuada at Villa Palagonia) and Tornatore’s trademark fascination with cinemas as well as cinema.

(Translated from Italian)

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