Baarìa is the kind of movie that while it fell short of its admirable goals must be recognized for the sheer ambition on the filmmaker. This sweeping story spans several decades in the life of a small Italian town contrasted against the passage of time spanning three generations of one of its inhabitants. The town whose official name is Bagheria is the setting for a touching story that explores the factors that drive a community with those that propel the motivations of the individual. This in itself is a fascinating concept that in many ways is reminiscent of the grandeur and scope of the literary masterpieces penned by James A. Michener. Anyone familiar with his works will readily state his novels are rich in detail typically chronicling the development of an area like Hawaii, the great American Midwest or Texas through the vantage point of several generations of a local family. The most notable difference is while Michener had a thousand printed pages to develop the numerous required story lines the filmmaker here, Giuseppe Tornatore, had a mere two hours and twenty minutes in which to relate his tale. Thematically this story would have been served far better it told through the format of a television miniseries. This would have given him sufficient bandwidth to properly detail the events that provoked the development of the principle characters and by extension, the town itself.
The one thing that Tornatore had in his favor that was not possible with the works of Michener is personalization. The man responsible for the story and the direction of the film was born in Bagheria, Palermo, Sicily, Italy. The fact that there are autobiographical elements to this film provides a strong foundation and an intimacy that comes across in an emotionally powerful manner. This firsthand experience afforded Tornatore with details both in the personalities of the principle characters and the textures inherent in the setting that makes the movie come alive. One thing that may result in some in the audience balk at this film is it is, from an American perspective, a foreign film with Italian dialogue and English Subtitles. Some may prefer such a film in a dubbed format but in that method you lose the lyrical cadence of the native langue and choices in translation are frequently compromised for sake of matching the timing.
The period extending from 1920 through the 1980’s was tumultuous for most of the world that this tide of change would trickle down to small communities like the one considered here, the Sicilian town of Baarìa. In this community lived a couple that would provide the human touchstone for the story about to unfold; Peppino (Francesco Scianna) and his girl friend Mannina (Margareth Madè).there marriage would provide the touchstone characters representing the next three generations starting with the young man’s father Ciccio (Gaetano Aronica) through to the grandson Pietro (Marco Iermanò). Selecting the middle generation represented by Peppino to anchor the story actually was a brilliant idea. It grounded the story nicely providing a natural transition through the decades that the audience can readily follow. With such a limited platform that even a lengthy dongle film provides this greatly expedited the exposition and streamlined the central plot points.
The large scale socio-political change the entire globe was experiencing is depicted in microcosm through the circumstances unfolding in Baarìa specifically personalized by filtering them through Peppino and his family. One of the underlying factors that influenced this period was the rise of Fascism in Europe particularly its incarnation in Italy. The global economic depression of the twenties would usher in this draconian form of government directly resulting in World War Two. At this time Cicco is an idealistic shepherd content to pass his time immersed in books and poetry. This would change when Peppino witnesses atrocities perpetrated by the local crime lords and powerful gentry he turns his ideological slant to embrace the growing movement of Communism. The film does manage to avoid becoming overly entangled in the ever changing political backdrop that dominated this country for most of the twentieth century. There are much more relatable issues considered such as a father’s adamant to his daughter’s desire to wear a new miniskirt to self mutilation to avoid military service. While the core of the film remains the rise of the Italian left wing and the eventual disillusionment of many long time adherents the use of this simple family as the Vox Populi
Although the running time of 150 minutes is, as noted too brief to fully relate a tale of multigenerational scope the paradox seen here is it comes across as too long from the vantage point of the audience. Too much time is spent on incidentals, side plots that while they enrich the tapestry of the overall film they diffuse the main plot points. This reads as tedious for the viewer especially members of the audience not conversant in Italian. The film ultimately begins to collapse under the weight of its own grandeur; some editing to quicken the pace could have improved the flow and general presentation of this work. The film exhibits captivating cinematography by Enrico Lucidi which accompanied by an intriguing score from Ennio Morricone create an interest film for the senses but little to assist the audience in truly connecting with the film. Tornatore is a well respected filmmaker who’s ‘Cinema Paradiso’ remains a critical favorite. This movie might have benefitted by less art house indulgence and more adherence to a straight dramatic format. At least the high definition release from Image Entertainment is fully capable of bringing the intrinsic beauty of this story to life.