Italian writer and director Giuseppe Tornatore was born in the small village of Bagheria on the island of Sicily in 1956. The life and culture of his home village has had a tremendous influence on his work. Many of his films have an autobiographical nature to them that he takes no pains to disguise. Earlier we reviewed his love letter to movies with Cinema Paradiso, which also took place in Bagheria. This time we explore five decades of life in that same village, known here by its nickname and the title of the film: Baaria.
The journey begins in the 1920’s Peppino (“Giuseppe”) Tornatore is a young boy whose services have been sold to a local shepherd to feed the family. He learns the trade but discovers it’s not what he wishes to make of his life. When the Communist Party begins to make inroads in his village, Peppino is attracted to the message and soon works his way to becoming an important leader of the party. He falls in love with Mannina (Made), and the two must elope because he has no personal fortune and her parents are against the relationship. It is up to Peppino’s father to take the ostracized couple into his own home when her family rejects them both. While there is no real plot here, the film follows the young boy through 50 years of life in the village and beyond, taking in the various historical events that effected Sicily at the time. Fascism and eventual World War take their toll. Peppino has a front-row seat to the land riots that rocked the country. His party loyalties cause serious trouble for the man as he goes up against both the established government and even the Mafia.
The real joy here won’t be found in the story itself. Tornatore is telling a personal tale here, and we have to forgive him somewhat if the tale becomes a bit too romantic and even a bit fanciful. There is a series of three large rock formations that play a part in the fanciful side of the story. Legend says that if one can strike all three formations with one rock the ground will open up and riches will be revealed. Of course, that doesn’t happen, but without spoiling a rather sentimental ending for you I will say that the rock formations do play a significant role in the story. No, the real joy can’t be found in the script. In fact, the writer/director doesn’t paint himself in a wonderful light. He is a man filled with disillusionment and never really quite in tune with what is happening about him.
No, the real pleasure here is the cinematography itself. The village in its various stages of evolution was built in Tunisia where most of the movie was filmed. The locations coupled with footage from Italy reveal a landscape that is the true star of the film. These people can’t but helped be shaped by their environment, and this environment is often barren but always full of incredible beauty. A dead land has never looked so marvelous before. And Tornatore pays quite a bit of attention to detail. He should; after all, the details are there locked inside his own head. So we see that more romantic image that has been colored by nostalgia and the imagination of 50 years of living it.
The film isn’t for everyone. Like Sergio Leone, Tornatore lingers both on his shots and his points. He pays a lot of attention to things that might appear trivial to the average viewer. Both men’s films require patience and a little extra grace in order to fully appreciate. Without that ability this film will absolutely drag for you, and you’ll end up with an exhausted feeling of a wasted three hours. But if you’re willing to take a journey and aren’t so concerned about when you arrive, this can be a magical piece that you will not likely forget anytime soon.
Baaria is presented in an altered aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of only 15-20 mbps. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot to love about the high-definition image presentation. Yes, the vistas can be magnificent at times, but the image suffers a multitude of sins. I’m not sure why the original 2.35:1 ratio was abandoned here. It will surely be a huge letdown for the film’s loyal fans. The bit rate is also very disappointing and provides a ton of compression and very weak black levels. It’s sad because you get just a fleeting glimpse of the splendor that might have been.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is in the original Italian. Again there is little to brag about here. Fortunately, the sound is clean and clear if not terribly dynamic.
Backstage: (29:34) A look at the construction of the village in Tunisia.
Special Event: (14:17) Cast and crew gather for a premiere event.
A Conversation With Tornatore: (25:51) Standard interview stuff here.
Deleted Scenes: (1:49)
Photo Galleries and a Trailer
Lionsgate and now Image have really offered a cultural treat with their slate of Italian films we’ve gotten over the last few weeks. It’s been a nice change of pace from the stuff I’m usually watching around here, particularly during October. It was quite a refreshing time I got to spend with my fellow Italian neighbor. It’s a tough job sometimes, to be sure. “But that’s why I’m here.”