Movies: Baaria * *
(15A, limited release)
In films such as Cinema Paradiso and Stanno Tutti Bene, Giuseppe Tornatore has celebrated the history and traditions of his native Sicily. He's at it again in Baaria, but this time his perspective is more personal.
Baaria, or Bagheria, is the small town in the province of Palermo where Tornatore was born and raised, and this epic saga has a strongly autobiographical feel. Starting in the 20s and sweeping back and forth between then and the early 70s, Baaria filters the wider story of Sicily and Italy through the experiences of three generations of one family.
Back in the 20s, Mussolini's fascists are beginning to swagger around Baaria, and the town is still run along absurdly iniquitous feudal lines when Cicco Torrenuova tries to scrape a living as a mountain shepherd and raise his young family.
Cicco loves books and the old country stories, and inculcates in his sparky son Peppino a love of learning and politics. As a young man, Peppino (Francesco Scianna) grows exasperated with the ill-treatment of his father and others by the bullying local landlord, and becomes a Communist activist.
He also falls in love with Mannina (Margareth Madé), a beautiful and singleminded young woman -- their love affair and Peppino's stubborn left-wing passion are the dramatic centrepieces of this film.
These sturdy characters, one presumes, are modelled on Tornatore's parents, because their son becomes obsessed with cinema and picks up a camera. But it's Peppino who's the central character in Baaria, and however wrong-headed his actions sometimes are, you have to admire his determination in standing up to the injustices of the fascists, landlords and the mafia.
A sprawling two-and-a-half hours long, Baaria runs thick with heavyhanded images and themes that fly off in 10 different directions at once. At times, Tornatore's drama shows signs of promise, but it is soon undermined by over-plotting and the thundering strains of Ennio Morricone's soundtrack. Anyone who remembers Cinema Paradiso will know that Tornatore has mawkish tendencies, but here the sentiment becomes so cloying at times that you feel as if you've been force-fed marzipan.