Image Entertainment // 2009 // 151 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 26th, 2011
"Captures the last century with a mesmerizing beauty and rare cinematic power."
What is it with the Italians and the epic film? We've got examples like Betolucci's 1900 or Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, and on our shores, the Italian-American epic that is all three Godfather films. All of these films combine extended running times with narratives that span decades if not generations. To that list we can add Baarìa, Giuseppe Tornatore's cinematic poem to his native soil. Although he was considered the savior of Italian cinema when his indie darling Cinema Paradiso and did well again with Malena, Tornatore's star has not risen much further. Baarìa won't help much with that situtaiton, but it does continue his artistic commitment to portraying Italy, cinema, and the trial of boyhood. Sadly, Baarìa (Blu-ray) features an improperly framed transfer and burned-in subtitles, which is really strange at this point in Blu-ray's maturity.
In this epic, two-and-a-half-hour tale, Tornatore follows young Peppino (played by three different actors) through the course of his life, from his boyhood in the Sicilian town of Bagheria (which is pronounced by the locals as "BaarÌa") through his life as a worker and his eventual maturity.
Like the double album in the rock world, the movie that dares to tread over that bum-numbing length of 120 minutes immediately courts folly. Usually, the double album and the epic film are signs of artistic maturity, of someone who feels he or she has mastered the tools of their trade sufficiently to make a grand statement. The joke is that these kinds of ambitions almost always lead to failure, with the expanded form of the epic -- album or film -- providing too much temptation and too many ways to get off message. More often than not they're fascinating failures. Audiences get the pleasure of seeing the form writ large and really getting a chance to sink into a work.
Baarìa fits rather neatly -- perhaps too neatly -- into this description. It's obviously being made by a filmmaker who's in complete control of his materials. Every scene is visually interesting, Tornatore cast strong actors, and the scope of his project -- covering a number of very important years in Italian history -- is ambitious. While watching I was constantly left with the feeling that all these resources could be better marshaled on a smaller film -- or in three smaller films, if one really wanted to tell the story of Peppino properly from cradle to grave. Individual scenes -- including the introduction of the town early on with a swooping shot -- are amazing, but they never quite hang together they like promise to.
However the film may be received, it deserves a better release than this. IMDb and various sources on the Internet report that Baarìa's original aspect ratio is 2.35:1, and this AVC-encoded transfer is 1.78:1. I thought we left these days behind with DVD. A little opening up (as from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1) might be acceptable if the director is okay with it, but to go from 2.35:1 to 1.78:1 requires the loss of a significant amount of detail in the frame and there's no explanation given on the box for this discrepancy. Add to that the fact that the Italian subtitles are burned in and it looks like something hinky is going on. The Italian audio, however, is well-done. The dialogue is clean and well-separated from the background sounds, with nice atmosphere in the surrounds. Ennio Morricone's soundtrack comes out clean and clear throughout the soundscape.
The disc also looks up a bit where the extras are concerned. Tornatore gives a very informative commentary, with lots of discussion of the genesis of the project and its production. His commentary is in Italian with optional English subtitles that appear at the top of the image (because the subs for the film itself are burned into the bottom). We also get a behind-the-scenes featurette that covers the film's production footage from the sets, and a 25-minute interview with Tornatore. Finally, there are some deleted scenes and a photo and poster gallery. All the extras are in Italian with English subtitles.
Baarìa is sure to please fans of Cinema Paradiso, as both films share a certain wonder with the world and a faith in the power of cinema. Even though the epic narrative might leave some a bit exasperated, it deserves to be seen, even in this imperfect form.
Baarìa is a film that would have received a pretty wide release just ten years ago -- around the time of the director's Malena -- but in this cinematic climate hasn't received much buzz. That's too bad, because it's an interesting entry into the career of a director who's been consistently working through a set for themes for several decades now. The irregularities in the film's presentation on this Blu-ray make it difficult to recommend for anything other than a rental, but the film should be seen by fans of Tornatore.
Guilty of giving a good film a suspect transfer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Italian)
Running Time: 151 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes