N (Napoleon And Me)

N (Napoleon And Me)


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

This would have worked better in the theatre. The lavish decoration, aesthetically pleasing and beautifully photographed, exposes the artificiality of the storyline. Martino (Elio Germano), an idealistic firebrand who wants to assassinate Napoleon for compromising his principals, is an excellent comic foil, but the grandeur of the setting, the island of Elba, specially spruced for tourists, reduces his stature. He needs the confines of a stage to allow the language of his passion to be heard. On screen, it competes with an army of extras and a well stocked props department.

When the Emperor (Daniel Auteuil) is banished to the island, the locals fall over themselves to honour him. The idea that he might, in some respect, be a prisoner is ludicrous. He thinks about food a lot and so the best is provided. Trips to neighboring islands for boar hunts and picnics? No problem. The mayor and his cronies are so sycophantic, they have smiles nailed to their breeches every morning.

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Martino was a teacher – sacked for sedition – and is a writer. He works and sleeps in the attic of his merchant brother’s house, which is run by their bossy sister. The maid, a leggy girl with luscious lips, has a passion for him, which he doesn’t notice. His recreation is riding a donkey up the hill to the Baroness’ (Monica Bellucci) palace, arguing with her, followed by love making and a bath (together) and a walk along the beach (alone). It’s a good life, until the imposition of the N-word.

The Emperor announces that he needs a secretary and he’s not talking about a pretty little thing from the typing pool. He wants someone with whom to verbally spar, rather than listen to the flipperty flattery of boring, provincial buffoons he meets every day. Martino gets the job, which is perfect for him, because now he can set about wiping the monster off the face of the earth. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. The little big man has a North African bodyguard, who doesn't miss a trick, and, anyway, Martino is in danger of being distracted by N’s bull-free discourse.

The film is never less than enjoyable. The humour feels forced, although you cannot blame the performances. Auteuil is loving it, like a man on holiday in delightful surroundings. Germano is at full throttle, whether raging about the decline of moral values (before giving the married Baroness one), or feverishly creeping through the undergrowth to shoot the Emperor. Although exhausting to be with at times, he captures the feeling of youthful intensity perfectly, which is another reason for disliking the ending. In their eagerness for closure, rather than walking away half baked and half hearted, the scriptwriters perform a volte-face, which is the kind of thing Shakespeare could get away with, but not here, not off stage.


Reviewed on: 22 Nov 2007
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When Boney went to Elba...

Director: Paolo Virzì

Writer: Francesco Bruni, Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli, Paolo Virzì, based on the novel by Ernesto Ferrero

Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Elio Germano, Monica Bellucci, Sabrina Impacciatore, Valerio Mastandrea, Francesca Inaudi, Massimo Ceccherini, Omero Antonutti, Margarita Lozano, José Ángel Egido, Achille Brugnini

Year: 2006

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Italy, Spain, France, US

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