Saturday, April 20, 2019

Blu-ray debut for Gérard Corbiau's under-rated musical/visual/sexual spectacle, FARINELLI

When FARINELLI was first released theatrically in the USA, back in 1995, it rather divided our major critics, winning Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes but losing its BFLF Oscar nomination to the winner, Burnt by the Sun.

When TrustMovies first saw the film he was hugely impressed by its visual beauty, its music, the castrati subject matter, along with the two gorgeous and sexy young Italian actors in the leading roles: Stefano Dionisi and Enrico LoVerso. Seeing the film again, 24 years later, it seems even better: deeper, stronger, more unusual, and every bit as beautiful as I remembered.

As directed and co-written by Gérard Corbiau, at right, the movie grabs you from almost the first few frames as a nude young man shouts down a warning from high above to another, younger boy, singing in the chorus below. What happens next is awful and riveting, setting the cinema table for so much that is to be served -- theme-, character-, and plot-wise over the nearly two hours to come.

Though the film moves cleverly and easily back and forth in time, it more formally begins as our young- adult Farinelli, played by Dionisi, below,
accompanied by his older brother, Riccardo (Lo Verso, below), impresses a surprised crowd with his amazing vocal skills and then shares a sexual conquest with his brother.

They share everything, it turns out, from their music to their finances to their women. (Farinelli was a stage name for Carlo Broschi, born in 1705 in what is now Apulia, Italy; brother Riccardo eventually became a noted composer and conductor.)

Carlo is by this time a castrato (having earlier been, or so he and we are told, in a terrible horseback-riding accident in which his scrotum was crushed). This has given him amazing vocal skills and range, while still enabling him -- said to have often been the case with eunuchs -- to achieve erection and full sexual union without ejaculating that life-giving sperm. Think of the fellow as the ultimate in pleasurable birth control.

As the film winds on and around, we're treated to other interesting subjects -- from the theatrical competition between the London theater that housed the work of Handel, the most famous composer of the time (played by Jeroen Krabbé, above, standing) and a lesser-known theatrical venue; creativity and its discontents (brought to sad life by brother Riccardo); the meaning of family (both birth and choice) and what one person might do to another to achieve his desired success.

Along the way we meet a raft of fascinating subsidiary characters, too -- from a continuing romantic interest (Elsa Zylberstein, above) to a mother and her beautiful but infirm son (below), both of whom provide our Farinelli with help and affection.

What holds this all together, however, are the gorgeous music and eye-popping visuals -- sound, production and costume design to die for -- giving us quite a splendid view of how 18th Century theatricals might have looked and sounded.

There's a lot of drama here -- melo and otherwise -- and the performances of Dionisi and LoVerso are exquisitely on target as the loving/feuding brothers. (Dionisi, as it turns out, had to learn to sing for this role and does a terrific job of lip-synching.)

The Blu-ray transfer in 2K helps preserve a truly splendid piece of moviemaking about a subject of which we've seen far too little. And don't miss the nearly hour-long Bonus Feature, Nostaliga for a Lost Voice, which details how so much of this amazing movie was researched and filmed -- with special attention to the way in which Farinelli's unusual voice was recreated, using the voices of two different singers, a female soprano and male counter-tenor, then seamlessly joining the two in the sound studio. Fascinating!

From Film Movement Classics and running 111 minutes, Farinelli hits the street this coming Tuesday, April 23, on Blu-ray, DVD and digital -- for purchase and/or rental.

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