CAPTAIN CORELLIíS MANDOLIN
Director: John Madden
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, John Hurt, Christian Bale, David Morrissey, Irene Papas, Piero Maggio
MPAA Rating: (for some violence, sexuality and language)
Running Time: 2:07
Release Date: 8/17/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
This is not the same John Madden that directed the perfectly portrayed, unspoken love in Mrs. Brown or the incredibly romantic Shakespeare in Love. No, the John Madden who directed Captain Corelliís Mandolin is a director who simply goes through the paces of a conventional and particularly uninteresting romance set against the backdrop of Greece during World War II. If there is one word to describe this movie, it would be "safe." With its period and authentic setting, lavish cinematography, and star-crossed love story, there would seem to be little to complain about. But the movie rarely tries anything more than its supposed to, and it falters greatly at its coreóthe romance.
The small island of Cephalonia has seen many hardships, but when Italy begins the move to occupy Greece, it is time to fight back. Among the young men taking the call arms is Mandras (Christian Bale), who just before leaving becomes engaged to Pelagia (Penelope Cruz). She is the daughter of the local doctor played by John Hurt. Pelagia writes to her fiancť every day, but never gets a reply. Fearing the worst, she comes to believe that she does not love him. Whether or not she actually loved him in the first place is something that is assumed but never portrayed. After losing a deciding battle in Albania, the Italians call in reinforcements from their allies, Nazi Germany. Eventually, the small village is taken, and a regiment led by the strangely and aloofly romantic Captain Antonio Corelli (Nicolas Cage) takes control. Corelli takes residence in the doctorís home, much to the dissatisfaction of Pelagia and the recently returned Mandras.
Not much really happens during the exposition to Captain Corelliís Mandolin. In fact, the exposition seems to go on for the majority of the movie. The characters simply meander through their quaint, peaceful lives even when they are occupied by Fascist Italy. This is a movie about characters who seem to never want to start conflict. So many things are left unspoken, so many burdens apparently forgotten that when the Italians organize a dance for the village, you begin to wonder how they obtained such high ranks in the army. And then when the villagers actually participate in the festivities, you wonder if theyíre quaint and unassertive or stupid and forgetful. The aggressors here are more concerned with their music than with their job. This is obviously meant to be a twist on our expectations, but then thereís the question of why anyone would oppose the occupation considering how comparatively good they have it. Of course, the biggest problem with this scenario is that it is completely implausible and historically inaccurate.
The result is a movie which is about as uninteresting as its title suggests. When the actual cause of the war is mentioned, Corelli tosses it aside for one of his mandolin solos. Forget thoughtful and intelligent discussion when you can play a song for the woman you loveóor at least you say you love. Considering their apparent fear of conflict, it would seem that love would be an even bigger problem. But that is not the case, and the romance here is the biggest flaw of the movie. At one point, Hurtís character gives this great and truth-filled speech about love, and itís unworthy of and insignificant to the romance going on between Pelagia and Corelli. They seem to fall in love because the script calls for them to. This is one of those movies that builds to the loversí first kiss, and when it happens, it comes out of nowhere. Cage and Cruz have little chemistry, which is either due to or magnified by Shawn Slovoís scant script.
Eventually, a conflict does arise and the characters get out of their self-centered and fear-filled shells to actually do something. The war effort, kept inexplicably in the background for so long, finally becomes the movieís focus, and the resulting battle and its aftermath are incredibly effective. The scenes are gruesome and disturbing, and this section is heads above the rest of the movie. It ends, unfortunately, and we are left with more of the romance. Its finale is conventionally bittersweet, and it eliminates the star-crossed origins of the love story for the sole purpose of being conventionally bittersweet.
But the setting is beautiful. Filmed on location in Cephalonia, cinematographer John Toll captures every scenic backdrop in all its natural glory. The war scenes are fairly reminiscent of the style of Saving Private Ryan, and yet it somehow maintains its own distinct look. If anything, the movie is an effective travelogue for prospective tourists.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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