Saturday, May 25, 2013

Opens Roads 2013: Marco Bellocchio's DORMANT BEAUTY gets an encore visit

Euthanasia may not seem the hot-button issue in America that abortion always is, but float it into a conversation -- anywhere, anytime -- not simply as a subject for discussion but with real specifics attached and you'll discover shock followed by flaring tempers before you know what has hit you. Imagine the same topic in Italy, home of the Vatican and its brand-new and controversial-as-always Pope, and you'll end up with shock-and-temper squared.

All of which makes Marco Bellochio's newest film DORMANT BEAUTY (Sleeping Beauty is a closer translation, but I guess that one's been used a few too many times) such a strong and satisfy-ing film. A surprising one, too -- and not in terms of what Signore Bellocchio (shown above) is capable of and usually gives us. As is lately the case with this master filmmaker, the surprise comes from the fact that the writer/director does not take a side but instead shows us several sides. (Yes, in life, readers, and even with subjects such as abortion and suicide, there exists more than merely "pro" and "con.") Bellocchio forces us to confront human beings in specific situations, rather than mere ideas.

The film takes place in 2009, during the fraught period just prior to an Italian father's pulling the plug on his daughter, Eulana Englaro, who had been in a coma for some 17 years. (For an American version of this, think back to 2005 and the case of Terri Schiavo.) While Italians demonstrate on both sides, Bellocchio zeroes in on a handful of disparate people.

Among these are a Senator (Toni Servillo, at left, above and below) whose personal feelings and conscience go against those of his party, and, in fact, of his own daughter, who is adamantly pro-life. His conversations with his peers, as well as with a "therapist to the politicians," are among the film's most trenchant and sometime darkly amusing. A word must be said here for Signore Servillo, who has got to be among the world's finest screen actors. Compare his work here with his almost unrecognizable performance in this year's It Was the Son (or in any of his movies, really: Il Divo, The Consequences of Love), and you will come away with renewed amazement for what this actor is capable.

When that daughter (Alba Rohrwacher, at left, and below, right) becomes suddenly involved in an incident provoked by the other side, her life takes a drastic change, as she finds herself drawn to the brother of one of the protesters (Michele Riondino, below, left). This situation -- fodder, it might seem, for a smart rom-com -- is here used in a way that allows these characters, along with us, to try, if haltingly, for some growth and change.

The dormant beauty of the title, in addition to the real Eulana, is found in the home of a famous French/Italian actress, played by Isabelle Huppert, below. Her daughter, too, is comatose, and while the father and brother might like to see that plug pulled, the actress, who has renounced theater, has submerged herself in the Catholic faith. That this section, though believable enough, is the least persuasive should not be surprising, for all-or-nothing religious faith must, I think, be experienced to be truly understood.

Elsewhere, a drug-addicted woman (Maya Sansa, below, left) is taken notice of by a doctor (the filmmaker's younger brother, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, below, right) and a dance of death/life ensues, and again, thanks to first-rate writing, directing and performing, we're able to understand things from both sides of the war. Will the movie change any viewer's viewpoint from one side to the other? Probably not. But it probably will make the "other" more understandable. For that, film lovers throughout the world can be very grateful.

That this really excellent film does not yet have U.S. distribution (most of Bellocchio's films have found such) is more than a shame. Perhaps in the days to come, due to the additional Open Roads exposure, some savvy/enterprising distributor will step up to the plate. Meanwhile, Dormant Beauty plays again, after its initial Film Comment Selects showings, at Open Roads following the opening night selection, on Thursday, June 6, at 9:15 pm at the Walter Reade and again on Friday, June 7, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at 1:15 pm.

You can find the entire Open Roads schedule here.

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