With this lavish follow-up toShakespeare in Love, director John Madden proves himself a worthy craftsman of literary films, and whileCaptain Corelli's Mandolinmay frustrate admirers of Louis de Bernières's densely detailed novel, it's a tastefully old-fashioned adaptation, preserving the novel's flavor while focusing on its love story set against the turbulence of World War II. Set on the Greek island of Cephallonia, the drama begins in 1940 with occupation by Italian troops, awkwardly allied with the Nazis and preferring hedonistic friendliness over military intimidation. That attitude is most generously embodied by Captain Corelli (Nicolas Cage), who is instantly drawn to the Greek beauty Pelagia (Penélope Cruz) despite her engagement to Mandras (Christian Bale), a resistance fighter whose absence leaves Pelagia needy for affection. Mandras's eventual return--and the inevitable attack by German bombers and ground troops--threaten to stain this Greek-Italian romance with deeply tragic bloodshed.
Accompanied by pensive serenades from the captain's cherished mandolin, the film charts the unlikely attraction of Corelli and Pelagia, whose wizened physician father (splendidly played by John Hurt) fears for the worst. Their love is uneasy (and Cage's miscasting doesn't help), but the island's beguiling atmosphere is as seductive to them as it is to the viewer, thus making the outbreak of violence--and a climactic earthquake--jarringly traumatic. Emphasizing nobility in war and the many definitions of love, the story's wartime context intensifies the film's admirable depth of emotion. Faults will be found by anyone who's looking for them, butCaptain Corelli's Mandolinremains a sensuous, richly layered film that die-hard romantics will find hard to resist.--Jeff Shannon
A Quiet Romance Those who could not see the beauty in this wonderful film were only using their eyes, and not their heart. Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a visually gorgeous and emotionally rich story of the beautiful Greek island of Cephallonia and its people during WWII. It is a slowly developing story of love and tradition amidst the awkwardness of war. We get a hint from the very beginning what this film is about as we hear the voice-over of the island's doctor, John Hurt: "Ask not why we are wounded, but if the wound can be healed."
Hurt gives a wonderful performance as the island's doctor and the wise father of Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), who he is training to be a doctor as well. Cruz's doe eyed and fawn like beauty only serve to enhance a fine and subtle performance of inner emotions, changing gradually as her life changes. Pelagia is engaged to Mandras (Christian Bale) and their betrothal scene is one of the many traditions Madden lets us see as he slowly gives us a feel for the people of Cephallonia and their storied history.
But war looms on the horizon and though the Greeks initially beat back the Italians in Albania they are overtaken when German reinforcements arrive. War finally comes to the island in the form of life loving and peaceful Captain Antonio Corelli. Corelli and his men are Italians by birth and soldiers only by necessity. He and his troop sing opera and share a lust for life. When he comes to stay in Pelagia's home in exchange for medical supplies to her father, love begins to unfold in a very quiet and careful manner.
Her betrothal to Mandras and the unwanted occupation of the Italians are stumbling blocks to their romance. Small and subtle things like Pelagia's sitting back down to listen to Corelli play the mandolin, and her picking up a picture in his room and smiling tell us what is developing. After love fully blooms, forming a triangle, Hurt has a touching moment with his daughter, trying to explain what love really is. At the same time, the wise doctor has come to see in Corelli something he does not in Mandras, and relates the story of his courtship with Pelagia's mother, and how he was forced to leave the island in order to keep from being killed by her fiance.
Things become more complicated when the Italians surrender to the allies and the Germans are on their way to the island. Corelli comes to learn that the Germans will treat he and his men just as the enemy and must make a decision that will change all their lives. A promise made to Pelagia by one of Corelli's men saves him, but in order to save Pelagia he must leave Cephallonia in a scene that is quiet and moving, like the entire film.
When things return to normal on the island after the war Pelagia becomes a doctor. But her wise father can see her pain and writes a letter to Corelli, in hopes that it will find him. Once again those words echo in our hearts: "Ask not why we are wounded, but if the wound can be healed."
This is a quiet and beautiful film, very much with an old Hollywood type feel to it. Though visually beautiful, this is food for the heart and not just the eyes. Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz are marvelous, as are John Hurt and all the other inhabitants of this magical place in time. We are so involved in this story that by the time Cage enters the picture we hardly notice his in and out Italian accent.
This is a film to lose yourself in and one that you will never forget if you view it not only with your eyes, but your heart as well. Only then will you see its true beauty.
Dreadful Dear Mandras,
I know that it has been many years since you (Christian Bale) and I (Penelope Cruz) have seen each other, but I felt that I should get in touch. I also hope that in the intervening years, you have learned to read and write. If you have not, please have someone read the letter to you, much like they did when you were on the front lines in Albania, in the early days of the War.
Before the War disrupted our idyllic, country life on the beautiful Greek Island that we grew up on, we lived a simple life. You returned home from fishing and your strapping body was too much to resist. Ah, those moments when you threw me into the water and we frolicked around together. To relive those times. I thought it was the smartest thing in the world for me to become engaged to you, before you left for the Albanian border. I was a medical student chomping at the bit for knowledge. You were an illiterate small village fisherman. It was to be a match made in heaven.
How was I to know that an Italian Captain, who could speak Greek, German and Italian, but couldn't master his own accent, would come and turn my whole life around. Ah, that captain. Ah, that captain and his beautiful mandolin. His name, as you know, was Captain Antonio Correlli (Nicholas Cage) and I was never particularly attracted to him. If I was, I sure couldn't let my father, Dr. Iannis (John Hurt), see it. Much to my surprise, my father seems to have wanted me to become `friendly' with him. After all, he made an arrangement to get medical supplies in exchange for the Captain boarding with us. The attraction never seemed to be there, but my father waxed many platitudes about this and just about every other conceivable subject under the sun. My father is very wise.
What a fun-loving group of Italians they were. An opera signing regiment, lead by the Captain, singing opera at every chance, frolicking in the waves with the Italian women they brought with them. They were here to fight a war, but damned if they weren't going to enjoy it as well. What a wacky bunch.
I don't understand his attraction to me, either, but naturally when he played his little song to me on the mandolin, I fell in love. He found me in that garden that day and we made love, such good love, that I had to touch my lips many times, smiling, as I remembered his groping.
Then, of course, the allies landed in Rome and the Germans wanted to take control of the idyllic Greek island where we lived. What a terrible time. Correlli realized that the German's would never let them go and tried to help defend out island, but... Enough of this history.
The attraction that we shared is a strange thing, I don't really understand it, much to this day, and I must apologize again for letting it end our relationship. I am so happy that you were able to help him and he you. It means a lot to me that you embraced him as you did.
But to the point of my letter, Mandras. I need your help. Now that Correlli and I have been together for many years, I am still wrestling with the reason why. He is not attracted to me and I am not attracted to him. I mean, he waited many years after the end of the war to contact me and I have to wonder why.
He is also teaching the grandchildren Opera. He would rather they sing an Opera than to talk and discuss things, to learn. Rather than learning many operas, he insists that they sing only the most recognizable operas, like `Santa Lucia'.
And that accent! It drivea me uppa the wall. The man has Italian ancestors and you would have to think that someone in the family would have an Italian accent. You would think it would be easier for him to approximate the accent of his heritage.
But Mandras, I have come to learn that my father, the village doctor, that he adopted me. It turns out that my accent has always been Spanish. I thought it sounded different from everyone, but I guess I see now why. I could never explain it before.
My story, our story, is another one of those love stories that was interrupted and inconvenienced by that little thing... World War II. A pity. I wish the war had never come and I would have never met Captain Correlli and his stupid mandolin.
Barely survives... ...Nicholas Cage, who is one of my favorite actors but who was OUTRAGEOUSLY MISCAST in this film!!! Cage excels in paying angry, wacky, unhinged, and/or offbeat characters---NOT the dashing and gallant Italian army officer in this film! I couldn't help guffawing through much of the movie as he was trying his best to dish out long lingering cow-eyes at his leading lady, or speaking oh so PASSIONATELY in the fake Italian accent.
Luckily Penelope Cruz provides lots of soothing and distracting eye candy, as does the stunning natural landscape of the Greek island the film was shot at, otherwise I would've been out the door within the first 15 minutes. John Hurt also puts in a decent performance as her father, the venerable and oh-so-wise village doctor.
The main problem with this movie is that despite the authentic location and beautifully made sets (the village was totally constructed for the film), it just all feels very FAKE---from Cage's horrific miscasting to the fake Italian-accented English he and all the non-Italian, non-Greek cast members speak throughout. The Italians, Germans, and Greeks are all portrayed in the simplest and well-worn stereotypes. The story is also unevenly paced and the plot, while it does have a few somewhat unexpected twists towards the end, is mostly predictable.
The brief war scenes are also disappointing, their lack of physical authenticity reminded me of some 1970s war movies, long before the advent of "Platoon" and especially "Saving Private Ryan."
It's really a shame, because I'm sure that in the hands of a talented Italian director like Giuseppe Tornatore ("Cinema Paradiso") and with an all-European cast speaking their native languages and us reading subtitles, this film could've easily been 200% better!
Really about the best thing in this film is the fleeting glimpse not only of Penelope's lovely uppper torso but more deliciously, of her coal-black but neatly-trimmed armpit hair during the one very PG-13 (read: tame, vanilla stuff) love scene. This is about the single most physically appealing and authentic moment in the whole 2 hours, I'm afraid.
I'm afraid what the Germans couldn't do to this little Greek island (the film is supposedly based on a true story), Hollywood accomplished fairly quickly: blow all into little pieces, on the way to the bank.