Twenty years after his Academy Award-winning
masterpiece, Cinema Paradiso, master film maker Giuseppe
Tornatore has brought us a touching film made of a series of scenes
and vignettes spanning a half-century slice of the Sicilian twentieth century
as seen through the eyes of a political activist. In a very real sense,
Baarìa is about the effects of change on a "typical" Sicilian
family and the challenges faced by a particular family from the
end of the Fascist
period until the 1980s.
"Baarìa" is, of course, a local pronunciation of Bagheria,
the director's home town, located just outside Palermo. In some ways the
setting itself is problematical, for while Tornatore's other Sicilian films
are set in more isolated locales, Bagheria can never be too remote from
The production itself is exceptional. Ennio Morricone's musical
score rounds out a flawless production. As if to evoke old photographs,
the chroma of most of the film has been balanced to a yellowish cast. While
effective, this can be tricky at times - almost a kind of artsy cinematic
technique gone too far. That isn't the most annoying thing about this 150
minute film shot in Italy and Tunisia and subtly enhanced by computer generated
The editing which unifies the various scenes is not a bad device, but
Tornatore doesn't always provide much meat to go with the gravy, leaving
us with some semi-developed story lines. The most disturbing was the incident
at Portella della Ginestra in 1947, when eleven
protesters were shot dead. We see the protest and the shootings but little
of the aftermath. This may be okay for those familiar with the incident
but it's an unsatisfying plot detail for almost everybody else.
In another scene, a young boy loses a leg to a land mine (planted by
the Germans during the Second
World War) while running through a citrus orchard. What is annoying
is not so much the lack of elaboration - we learn of the boy's fate in a
later scene - as the complete absence of any commentary or implication about
the effects of the war.
The point here is that few outside Italy, or even Sicily, are familiar
with the 1947 massacre, while most young people (even those with access
to The History Channel) are less familiar than their elders with World War
II. It might have been useful for Tornatore to include something to place
these scenes in context.
Several surreal scenes are magical in capturing the emotions.
One of these, involving a fly, seems like an allusion to the cricket scene
in Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. Another re-creates a part of the
estate of the Prince of Palagonia which has since been supplanted by ugly
Baaria is not precisely autobiographical. It is a story of many families
of Sicily. While the movie is absolutely accurate in its depiction of political
realities, the Mafia
and the experiences of a great many Sicilians, the Sicilians as Victims
angle, an undercurrent in many Tornatore films, wears thin after about an hour.
It simply becomes tiresome. We may pity the young Mannina, forced into an
arranged marriage by an illiterate father and rescued by the poor Peppino
Torrenuova, the film's main character (masterfully portrayed by the talented
Francesco Scianna), but the plight of the majority of citizens leads us
to believe that in Bagheria - once a haunt of the wealthy famous for its
aristocratic villas - there are no educated professional people. Granted
that Barrìa isn't intended as a guide to Sicily's libraries, opera
houses, universities, hospitals or aristocracy,
its perspective does leave us with a slightly warped impression of the place
and its people.
In addition to the standard Italian audio version of the film, which
includes bits of dialogue in Sicilian, another was released which is predominantly
in Sicilian. This is of little importance to most viewers who speak neither
language and rely on subtitles, but it is an interesting touch. Catania
native Margareth Madè, who plays Mannina, is an exceptional young
talent. The cast is mostly Sicilian, featuring the comic duo of Ficarra
and Picone. There are cameo appearances by Monica Bellucci (star of Malena) and Raoul Bova.
Baarìa is a contemplative film, perhaps even inspired in some
ways, but despite its length and visual beauty it leaves us wanting.
About the Author: Michele Parisi, who presently resides in Rome, has
written for various magazines and newspapers in Italy, France and the United