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 Despite a premise that suggests a TV movie (a perhaps outdated term, its form replaced by instep-history documentary), there’s a sustained effort to plumb different levels of political awareness, personal insight, and even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.
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 Playing an admired thespian who has withdrawn to maintain a religious vigil beside her own comatose daughter, Isabelle Huppert brings her nimble screen intelligence to bear on a character that might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