Baaria (2010)

Director:  Giuseppe Tornatore 
Cast:  Francesco SciannaMargareth MadèLina Sastri
Plot:  Baaria is Sicilian slang for Bagheria where Tornatore was born and this is an autobiographic epic of three generations in the Sicilian village where he was born.

Genre:  Comedy / Drama
Awards:  Won Best Director (Venice).  Nom. for Golden Globe - Best Foreign Language Film.
Runtime:  150min 
Rating:  M18 for a scene of strong violence, some sexuality, and coarse language. 

Giuseppe Tornatore, the director of Cinema Paradiso (1989), one of the greatest films ever made, has made Baaria, a 150-minute long drama that spans more than six decades in the life of the film’s lead character, Peppino Torrenuova. 

Based on memories of the Sicilian village the Italian director was born into, Baaria is an autobiography of sorts that documents the lives of people who have been affected by social and political revolutions of the last century, and as seen through the eyes of the Torrenuova family.

Shot in Italy and Tunisia in which a full set of a Sicilian village was built from scratch, Baaria is visually captivating.  Tornatore creates a feeling of vibrant nostalgia by having most of the scenes drenched in bright yellow as if memories of the past have been lighted up by a powerful flashlight. 

The film may be attractive to look at, but the lack of emotional power undermines the filmmaker’s attempt to recreate Cinema Paradiso all over again.  The most glaring flaw of Baaria that limits its emotional power is its uninspired editing. 

It is ironic that even with such a long running time, the film has inadequate character development.  The editing is such that the film is broken up into about twenty sequences of similar length and is merged together through the fade out-fade in technique.  Thus, it is like watching a slideshow of beautiful images.

The film is coherent enough for the average viewer to comprehend, but the narrative that drives the core of the film remains inhibited, as if it is involuntarily hiding behind the image.  And when the narrative seems to pick up steam in some parts, and things get quite interesting, Tornatore breaks it all apart again.  And again.  It is quite frustrating on the viewer to say the least.

Ennio Morricone once again creates a beautiful score that is slow and mournful.  It is, however, let down by the film’s lack of interest in connecting with the viewer.  Interestingly, Baaria is a film in which the sum is more than the parts that add up to it.  The last fifteen minutes finally reveals the scope of Tornatore’s vision for Baaria, which until then seems like an enlarged postcard with stunning images, but without the words that would reveal the sender’s emotions.

While he seeks to look back into the past, he also wishes to equate a lifetime of memories to a split-second afterthought, highlighting the fact that time passes too quickly for us to appreciate each moment on its own, of which the medium of cinema can only suggest but not replicate.  

Through some heavy symbolism and instances of magical realism, Tornatore makes us aware of the medium at work.  Baaria, for all of its editing shortcomings, appears to transcend them by the time the end credits roll.

Unfortunately, the parts that make up the film still linger unsatisfactorily in the mind. Baaria is Tornatore’s love letter to his hometown.  It is done with lots of love, but sadly, it just doesn’t come out as such on the big screen.

GRADE: C+ (6.5/10 or 3 stars)

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