Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Captain Corelli’s Mondolin



USA 2001
director : John Madden
script : Shawn Slovo (based on novel by Louis de Bernieres)
cinematography : John Toll
editing : Mick Audsley
lead actors : Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, John Hurt
125 minutes

The runaway bestseller is brought to the screen, inevitably much truncated and generally mucked-about-with – fans of the book may protest, but its hard to see the adaptation stirring very strong feelings either way among anybody else. This is a thoroughly professional prestige blockbuster from the director who brought you Mrs Brown and Shakespeare In Love – a square but safe pair of hands, and as such ideal for such a hot literary property.

Its 1943, and, as Italian forces occupy the scenic Greek island of Cephallonia, opera-crazy, mandolin-strumming Capt Corelli (Cage) falls for headstrong Pelagia (Cruz), daughter of crusty Dr Iannis (Hurt). But she’s betrothed to resistance fighter Mandras (Bale), and they’re all soon swept up by the vast forces of politics and history. As the war escalates, the easygoing Italians are joined by their more aggressive German allies, with catastrophic consequences

Picking holes in Corelli isnt difficult – Maddens careful approach would have seemed old-fashioned back in the films forties setting, and its bizarre, in the year 2001, to have all these characters speaking such heavily-accented English. Even for those unfamiliar with the book, there’s a distinct feeling of a quart being forced into a pint pot, with several blasts of plummy-accented exposition booming clumsily out of radios to keep us informed about the wider picture – Greece is not yet involved in the war – though towards the end its hard to keep track of exactly whats happening and why.

The focus on the central romance allows Cage and Cruz plenty of room to develop their characters, but, with the exception of Hurt, the supporting cast mostly have to make do with underwritten roles. As the good Nazi Weber, David Morrissey projects just the right blend of insecurity and Tyrolean bravado, but the script doesn’t give him much chance to form a convincing relationship with Corelli, a relationship which is vital to the latter sections melodramatic plot mechanics.

Even so, the Weber character fares better than that of Corellis bodyguard, Carlo (Piero Maggio) in the book Carlos homosexual attraction to Corelli is, again, an important factor in the fates of both men. In the movie, this attraction is disappointingly blanded out into a simple bond of platonic, soldierly fraternity.

But Corelli is, at heart, a big-budget crowd-pleaser designed to be enjoyed, not analysed. Audiences in search of two hours worth of romantic escapism will lap up the photogenic cast, the lush strings-heavy score, and John Tolls luminous cinematography of the stunning scenery.

Perhaps too luminously stunning – Cephallonia may have retained its character over centuries of earthquake, occupation and massacre, but that’s nothing compared with whatll happen when this two-hour advert attracts the attention of worlds most ruthless invading force: mass tourism.

26h April, 2001

by Neil Young