Thursday, June 5, 2014

At last! Marco Bellocchio's thoughtful end-of-life movie DORMANT BEAUTY hits American theaters

I first saw and covered this moving and surprising film two years ago, expecting it would open soon in a limited release. No such luck. Now, finally, adult movie-lovers will have the chance to see and ponder the film that is one of its director's -- Marco Bellocchio's -- best. I've re-posted my original coverage below, with a few updates. Watching DORMANT BEAUTY a second time makes me realize anew how very fine a film it is.

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 disagreement and shock followed by flaring tempers before you know what has hit you. Imagine the same topic in Italy, home of the Vatican and its I'd-better-abdicate-before-the-shit-hits-the-fan former Pope, not to mention the oh-my-god-he's-a-Communist (who maybe helped the Argentine military "disappear" leftists) current Pope, and you'll no doubt end up with that disagreement, shock and flaring tempers squared.

All of which makes Marco Bellocchio'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 satisfying film. A surprising one, too -- and not in terms of what Signore Bellocchio (shown above) is capable of and usually gives us. Rather, the surprise comes from the fact that this writer/director does not take a side but instead shows us several sides. (Yes, in life, there exists more than merely "pro" and "con.") This 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, above left) whose personal feelings and conscience go against those of his party, and, in fact, of his own daughter (Alba Rohrwacher, below, right) 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.  When she 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 on the opposite side (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 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" a little more understandable.

From Emerging Pictures and Cinema Made in Italy and running 115 minutes, Dormant Beauty opens tomorrow in New York City exclusively at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. In the Los Angeles area, the film will open in Friday, June 13, at Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7. Elsewhere? Yes, and you can find the cities and theaters by clicking here, and then clicking on Show all dates worldwide for this title.

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