Baaria Movie Review
In the 1920s, Peppino (Scianna) is born in the spirited town of Baaria (aka Bagheria) in northern Sicily. As he grows up, he falls for local girl Mannina (Made), whose family doesn't approve, and gets increasingly involved in politics, working with the communist party to protect people's rights from both the oppressive government and the mafia. Over the years, they have five children, including the precocious and imaginative Pietro (Scortino), who becomes obsessed with cinema.
Baaria is also where Tornatore was born, so the film is clearly a labour of love, drawing on his personal family history and early memories. He also seems to employ Sicily's entire population as extras for frequent crowd scenes, which are thrillingly shot and edited. He also vividly recounts Italian history through the eyes of earthy Sicilians who are often at odds with both the distant Italian government and the mafiosos who try to control their lives.
Yes, the film is assembled on a massive scale, infused with strong Latin passions that continually echo in Ennio Morricone's swelling score. The expansive settings are seriously impressive, while smaller bits of movie magic tie things together inventively, although the livelier early scenes are a lot more engaging than the draggy political section. But all of it is energetic, infused with anarchic humour and huge emotions as these people are confronted with big decisions, a variety of adventures and life-and-death experiences over the decades.
Being a series of anecdotes, the film lurches through Peppino's life without much momentum. The larger scenes capture the community's feisty resilience, but overall the film is so crowded and far-reaching that it's not easy to remember who's who; only Peppino and Mannina really develop as characters. But Scianna and Made add charm and personality to the local details--customs, superstitions, apocryphal stories and scores of vivid side characters. And even though it's awash with Tornatore's usual golden-hued sentimentality, this is a fascinating, important and beautifully made film that rather overstays its welcome.