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Tue Jul 20 2010Giuseppe Tornatore has spent his career trying to top 1988’s ‘Cinema Paradiso’, and this mammoth tribute to his Sicilian hometown (Bagheria, or ‘Baarìa’ in the local dialect) seems intended as some sort of magnum opus. Sweeping through more than half a century, it traces a social transformation from the near-feudal backwater of the 1920s to a recognisably modern community.
The surprise, perhaps, is that it’s not primarily a Mafia saga, focusing instead on the travails of Peppino (Francesco Scianna), scion of sheep-rearing stock, who gets himself an education, ascends the Communist Party ranks and makes his mark on the local council, where the Christian Democrats – way too cosy with the Cosa Nostra – have long held sway.
The thrust of the story is how Peppino always feels like he’s a failure because Sicily never seems to be changing when you’re in the midst of it – so it’s for the viewer to grasp the measure of his achievement. While this concentration on the sleeves-rolled-up heroism of an ordinary man is theoretically uplifting, the proceedings get clogged with sundry comic misadventures, too many characters we don’t care about, a weak performance by Margareth Madè as the love of Peppino’s life, and a surfeit of effortful Morricone strings. Knowing that the entire town was built on huge sets in Tunisia renders the whole edifice an epic act of directorial obsession to rank with ‘Heaven’s Gate’, so it’s a shame Tornatore’s movie, impressive statement though it is, never musters the emotional potency that would make it really special.
Author: Trevor Johnston