call Eluana Englaro the Italian Terri Schiavo.
The latter case was scandalously misreported by the drive-by media, as
civil libertarian Nat Hentoff passionately decried at the time. At least Englaro’s medical decisions were
made by a loved one with no conflicts of interest. That certainly did not stop Prime Minister
Silvio Berlusconi from getting involved, thereby guaranteeing considerable
drama. Director-co-writer Marco
Bellocchio portrays the resulting media feeding frenzy through the eyes of
three sets of fictional characters in Dormant
screens as a selection of Film Comment Selects 2013.
a prolonged legal battle, Englaro’s father has transferred her to a private
clinic in Udine, where her feeding will be discontinued. She really is in a persistent vegetative
state. Berlusconi is not taking this
lying down. Legislation has been introduced
to save Englaro. Senator Uliano Beffardi
intends to buck his party and vote against it.
His reasons are personal. He once
had to make a similar choice for his late wife, but his relationship with his
pro-life daughter Maria has been strained ever since.
Englaro case also hits close to home for the retired actress known simply as “Divine
Mother.” She has preserved her beloved comatose
daughter for years in hopes she will eventually wake-up. Meanwhile, Dr. Padillo is not following the
case nearly as closely as his colleagues, but he is determined to prevent a
recently admitted drug addict from killing herself.
applies a dramatic fairness doctrine to partisans on both sides, except the
former PM. Did he really say Englaro
looks healthy enough to “give birth to a son?”
Afraid so. Look, say what you
will about Berlusconi, but the man is never dull. Frankly, if Bellocchio had anything nice to
say about him, he would probably be drummed out of every directors’ guild. In contrast, his depiction of the senator and
his daughter is far from simplistic.
fact, Maria is a wholly sympathetic character, who strikes up an unlikely
romance with Roberto, the long-suffering brother of a wildly unstable
pro-euthanasia demonstrator. Their
bipartisan connection is one of the most appealing courtships seen on film in
years. Likewise, her relationship with
her father evolves in ways that are mature, believable, and satisfying.
the other two story arcs are not nearly as rewarding. Divine Mother mainly seems to be in the film to
compensate for Roberto’s creepy brother.
Granted, she is played by the film’s biggest star, Isabelle Huppert, and
valid reasons are established for cartoonish Catholicism. Nonetheless, the deck is clearly stacked
against her. While her sequences are a
tonal mishmash, they still most closely approach the operatic sweep of
Bellocchio’s kind of awesome Vincere.
more engaging, the scenes shared by the doctor and his suicidal patient are
well acted (by Bellocchio’s brother Pier Gregorio and Maya Sansa) and ring with
honesty. They just feel like they were
spliced in to further obscure Bellocchio’s personal position. That is a worthy impulse, but it would be
unnecessary had he just focused on the Beffardis, whom most viewers will
consider the primary subjects anyway.
Servillo is absolutely fantastic as Beffardi, a decent man totally befuddled by
the modest importance bestowed on him late in life. He never plays the part as a mouthpiece for a
certain position, but as a world weary widower father. By the same token, Alba Rohrwacher
demonstrates perfect pitch as the rebelliously devout Maria. She develops some palpable opposites-attract
chemistry with Michele Riondino’s Roberto and gives the audience hope we can
all grow and develop.
Beauty is sometimes a great
film. There is some wickedly funny
satire of the Italian senators that does not necessarily skew left or right,
simply skewering the political class instead.
Arguably, this is a case where less would have been more. Recommended for Servillo, Rohrwacher, and the
compelling vibe of the Udine protests, Dormant
Beauty is recommended for fans of Italian cinema and political drama when
it screens today (2/20), Friday (2/22), and Sunday (2/24) at the Howard Gilman
Theater as part of Film Comment Selects 2013.
Labels: Film Comment Selects '13, Italian Cinema, Marco Bellocchio, Toni Servillo