Italy’s Cinematic Conscience: Marco Bellocchio

06/11/2014 1:37 PM |

Dormant Beauty, a film by Marco Bellocchio

With a career spanning half a century and delving into Italy’s thorniest legacies, Marco Bellocchio seems to embrace the potential, as melodramatic as it sounds, of being a country’s cinematic conscience. The tendency is vividly embodied by the multiple points of view in Dormant Beauty, which weaves stories around the moral (and media) conundrums in the right-to-life case of coma patient Eluana Englaro. Despite a premise that suggests a TV movie (a perhaps outdated term, its form replaced by instep-history documentary), there’s a sustained effort to plumb different levels of political awareness, personal insight, and even sanity. One protester (Alba Rohrwacher) falls for another, after a confrontation with his mentally unstable brother, their duties to political issues and familial obligation momentarily put in the background by the liberating flicker of attraction. That protester’s father, a senator (Toni Servillo), in turn presents a notably idealistic model of political service, weighing, behind the scenes, his principles and his debts.

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Bellocchio also spotlights two other figures that are generic in their way—a grande dame actress and a hard-bitten suicidal patient—but provocative beyond their surface theatrics. Playing an admired thespian who has withdrawn to maintain a religious vigil beside her own comatose daughter, Isabelle Huppert brings her nimble screen intelligence to bear on a character that might cynically be regarded a performer finding a new role (or two, in interpreting her daughter for the world). Though less illuminating or complex, the story of a doctor wrestling his patient away from the brink yields another twist on the high stakes of philosophizing the sanctity of life. There’s a romanticizing strain to Bellocchio’s implicit belief in understanding that won’t sit well with hard-headed viewpoints that demand stylized distance or tone (though the filmmaker doesn’t hold back with his portrait of a nattering political class supplied with pills by some kind of in-house parliament shrink). It’s a worthy addition to Bellocchio’s ongoing dramatization and complication of his country’s history.

Now playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinema