With both a literal and a figurative nod to Federico Fellini, Italian auteur Giuseppe Tornatore has created "Baaria." A personal epic spanning five decades in the life of a typical Italian family, there is undeniable beauty and lyricism in Tornatore's vision. His beloved "Cinema Paradiso" was a striking blend of nostalgia, whimsy, fantasy and heartfelt drama that struck a chord with both viewers and critics. It won an Oscar, as well as a slew of other awards, and is widely considered a modern masterpiece. With "Baaria," he adheres closely to a similar formula but with decidedly mixed results. I had heard one of two things about "Baaria" prior to catching it on this presentation. Some said it was a masterpiece, some said it was an utter disaster. And in truth, I do believe the film to be divisive. I expected to fall in love with the movie, but I ended up admiring individual elements as opposed to embracing it in its entirety. Part of the film's unusual quality is that it seems both completely intimate to the filmmaker but more noticeably aloof to the viewer. In the film's construction, Tornatore advances through the years and presents some compelling moments without ever slowing down enough to let us actually become invested. This choice might be embraced by some, but the lack of emotional connection is what will create the film's strongest detractors.
As always, Tornatore's film is a beautiful physical specimen. The technical aspects of art direction and cinematography enhance the movie's appeal, and it really looks crisp and clean. Taking place in a small Sicilian hamlet called Bagheria (of which the title Baaria is a nickname), the bulk of the film deals with a small boy who advances through his life to old age within the narrative. Not only do we see his world and family, but we see the political structure of the country change around him. I enjoyed much of this perspective as there were subtle lessons in history sprinkled throughout the piece. Certain moments have a pleasant sweetness, some are more tough. It's as if we are catching random glimpses of the characters as time progresses. And in truth, I really liked the idea of the film. However, if I'm being completely honest--the device, while interesting, is also what caused me to disconnect from the story. Just when something of interest happens, you move on. Nothing has time to resonate. How can you watch someone's life story and still not particularly know them or care about them? That is ultimately how I felt with "Baaria."
And yet, I still can't completely discount Tornatore's conception. It's big, bold and adventurous. Sure, it veers to the fantastical once too often--but here is a filmmaker with a specific point of view. It wasn't wholly successful for me, but it didn't lack in ambition (which so many films do). The movie itself ranks at about 3 1/2 stars for my taste. But the DVD features are enough to make me round up and should be appreciated by Tornatore fans. He is front and center in a commentary track, in behind the scenes footage, in an interview, and at the film's premiere. In addition, some deleted scenes are also present. Clearly, this was a personal and important project for the director. I just wish that I had felt the same passion as he has for the work. KGHarris, 10/11.