The Politician of the Hills
My introduction to Italian writer and director Giuseppe Tornatore came with "Malena" a beautiful but tough movie and I fell in love with his style of cinema when I watched the almost perfect "Cinema Paradiso". But then I watched "Baarža" another epic, nostalgic tale which Tornatore wrote and directed and I am left a little disappointed. Visually it is wonderful and the journey through various decades as the town of Bagheria changes is captivating, in fact you loose track of time watching "Baarža" and to your surprise only an hour will have passed yet you will have watched what feels like much more. But the trouble is that "Baarža" is a personal tale, a tale of the town where Tornatore was born and how it changed over several decades, told through the eyes of Peppino Torrenuova as we see him go from a young boy to an old man. And whilst watching things change is easy to comprehend the emotion of it isn't. And so in the end rather than being a clever look at how Bagheria and what caused changes "Baarža" becomes a photo album of events, beautiful but lacking the emotion.
So I think I understand what Giuseppe Tornatore was attempting to do with "Baarža" and that is tell the history of his town via mainly the eye of one character taking us from his childhood in a small village to old age when it is a large busting town unrecognizable from that small place where children played with spinning tops on the streets. And in a way he succeeds because through out this journey we see elements of life through the eyes of Peppino Torrenuova as he goes from working as a goat herder to becoming a politician, being an outcast, marrying and so on and so fourth. And as this unfolds we see how Bagheria changes, we see it not only slowly expand as we look down on the town but we also see how social attitudes change, more cars arriving and so much more. It is captivating to watch thanks mainly to Tornatore's eye for what looks good and his eye for strong characters.
As to those characters well this is where "Baarža" starts to become unstuck because whilst all of the characters are interesting from those which are there for some typical quirkiness to the central ones such as Peppino and his wife Mannina the emotional depth isn't. It means there is a certain appeal to them and both Francesco Scianna and Margareth MadŤ have a certain look, a beauty which draws us to them which is perfectly captured via Tornatore's eye for a great looking shot. But they end up like pieces in a game where they are part of something but we don't truly understand why, we don't get to fully understand their motives. Now on one hand that is right because "Baarža" is about the changing town not the people but it also makes it hard to feel the emotional connection of each change and what it means.
And that is the big problem with "Baarža" because whilst visually Tornatore has delivered something close to the epic beauty of "Cinema Paradiso" he hasn't delivered the same depth of story. It is a shame because if a movie was purely about look then "Baarža" would be up there with the best from the surreal opening shot through to the way we witness the town evolve. But because the depth and emotion doesn't come across what we are left with is a good looking movie which provides almost a series of photos of a changing town.
What this all boils down to is that "Baarža" did disappoint because it doesn't have the depth of story I was hoping for. But at the same time the strong characters and the look is so impressive that even if the story doesn't grip you like you hope watching Peppino Torrenuova grow and Bagheria change will make you lose track of time.
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