Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Crafted by celebrated auteur Guiseppe Tornatore and with a soundtrack by the great Ennio Morricone, Baarìa is a film from which it was reasonable to expect great things. That it falls considerably short of this should not persuade filmgoers that it's unworthy of their attention. It's a heartwarming family fable and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Distinctly old-fashioned in style as well as substance, it seems made for matinées in dusty picture houses when it's too warm outside and the ice cream tastes faintly of sawdust, and all is right with the world.

The film opens with Pietro, a small boy with fantastic ears, playing with his spinning top in the street. His father sends him for cigarettes. There's 20 lira in it if he can get back before his father's spit dries on the ground. So Pietro sets of running as fast as he can - so fast that he launches himself into the air and goes flying into the past, into his father's childhood. From here, the film takes us on a journey through the middle years of the 20th century.

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Here is Peppino (loosely based on Tornatore's own father), a youthful opportunist always getting into trouble, dodging the fascists, falling for a girl whose parents disapprove, challenging the local mafia, joining the Communist party, gradually ascending the bureaucratic ladder even as age carries him into irrelevance in the minds of the young. Around him the colourful characters of this small Sicilian town, Baarìa, strut their stuff.

There's endless melodrama, from the real suffering of poverty and war to the absurdities occasioned by intergenerational conflict and individual pride. We don't see much in the way of character development - only Peppino is really given room to grow, though Margareth Madè (a model in her first acting role) works hard to bring some depth to the scantily written role of his long-suffering wife. Most of the action is delivered through vignettes, and the film, already overlong, suffers under their weight. Yet there is still a great deal of humour and warmth.

All the classic ingredients from the director's earlier Cinema Paradiso are here, including visits to the local cinema itself, absurdly cute children, frequently swelling music and a sentimental yet curiously stand-offish approach to romance. Yet where Paradiso's sweetness was iconic, Baarìa's threatens to become suffocating. There's too much indulgence in honey-coloured vistas and affectionate smiles even when the presence of soldiers on the streets signals clearly that all is not well. This makes the film strangely - though surely unintentionally - reminiscent of Heimat, where Edgar Reitz used a similar approach to comment on the willingness of many German people to stand idly by as the right rose to power. No similar comment seems to be intended here - instead the political activity in the film serves merely as a backdrop for Peppino's personal journey. He could as easily have been a watchmaker. What's significant about his chosen occupation is his devotion to it, often at the expense of his family, who don't sem to mind, though we never get to know them well enough to understand why.

Full of beautiful imagery, confident performances and old-fashioned Italian charm, this is a picture postcard of a film, pleasing on the surface but with very little to say. It won't show you anything you haven't seen before, but in places it might well make you wish you were there.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2010
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A rambling tale of life in a small Sicilian town during the mid 20th Century.
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Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Writer: Giuseppe Tornatore

Starring: Francesco Scianna, Margareth Madè, Ángela Molina, Salvatore Ficarra, Monica Bellucci, Luigi Lo Cascio

Year: 2009

Runtime: 150 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy, france


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