22 November 2006 | eskymodahl-1
Beautiful Cinema, but You'd Have to be a Nerd
This is a gorgeous movie: Gorgeous acting, gorgeous scenery, gorgeous dialogue, gorgeous cast. But in order to enjoy it to the fullest, you'd have to be two kinds of nerd: 1) Napoleonic-- well-versed in Napoleon's history and policies, as well as the histories of his extended family. 2) Beauty-- as in, the beauty of existence, and the pursuit of beauty itself. This is hard one to describe, but if you read Mark Helprin's novels, you know what I'm talking about.
I can't stress enough the importance of Napoleonic knowledge. There isn't much plot to this film, but you'd still be overwhelmed by it if you didn't understand the historical context, especially since not much is clarified as the film progresses. This is a hugely important era in Neopolitan history. (The story takes place in the old kingdom of Naples, under the rule of Napoleon-appointed king Joachim Murat, who was his brother in law.)
Beauty in existence, beauty in life, beauty in love is the heavier influence in this film. And the film is saturated with beauty . . . you can feel the richness of it. I believe that was the director's intention, to affect the viewer at the core, rather than involve them too much in plot lines and character development.
Essentially, this film can't be described in concrete terms. It's ambient. I gave it an 8 out of 10 because I think that most people really do need a plot they can follow, or else more explanation on the Murat side would have been appreciated.
I was thrilled by the international cast, especially the Indian girl who played Graziella. This is the way to cast people, based on talent (she's got it), and while not hiding an actor's ethnicity, not forcing a justification for their presence. Graziella was played with a naturalness and soulfulness rarely seen in film from any country. She stole the show from Omar Sharif.