Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Random DVD Review: Captain Corelli's Mandolin

First of all, a tip if you're trying to get onto the free wifi at Starbucks or Borders and can't get a connection, type "att wifi" (starbucks) or "wifi login" in your browser's URL window, that will often bring up the usage agreement screen so you can click the box and get online.

Anyway, on to the blogging.

I've followed Nicholas Cage's brilliantly erratic career for a while, and am always interested to see what he's doing with himself. I missed this one when it came out because the "romantic drama" marketing didn't much appeal to me, and it didn't seem to enjoy much critical success, although, while bored out of my skull recently I decided that the fact that there's a mandolin in it, and it's got some legitimate historical drama going on might make it something to pass the time.

Well, because of the movie's reputation, I went into it not expecting too much, so I was able to sit back pass a rainy evening without disappointment. It's not as bad as some critics will have you believe, but, like too many other Grand Historical Dramas (tm) especially those adapted from well-recieved books, it suffers from having a lot of good parts that never quite manage to flow together. It's not bad, it's just kind of bland. Oh, and since everybody was speaking English anyway, they shouldn't have made Cage attempt an Italian accent.

What was interesting about it was the historical context. The major even of the film is the Massacre of the Acqui Division, which took place in September of 1943 on the Greek island of Kephalonia. Italian troops, then allied with the Nazis, occupied the island for some time, but when Italy surrendered to the Allies, conflict arose. Things escalated and the Italian soldiers eventually rebelled against the Germans who still held control of the island. Germany sent in more troops and air support, and the Italian troops were defeated and taken prisoner. The Nazis then proceeded to kill about 5,000 prisoners of war.

What the movie gets right, I think, is the uneasy relations between the three groups on the island, its natives, who were nominally conquered but still offering partisan resistance, the Italians, most of whom were fairly reluctant to be there and often found more in common with the locals than their allies, the Germans, who had a much different take on the war.

Interestingly enough, there is a real-life basis for the love story between the eponymous Corelli and the local girl. A Sicilian artillery officer named Amos Pampaloni did fight against the Germans on the island after the Italian armistice, and was wounded and left for dead, and he did survive with the help of a local girl (although the actual romance may have been exaggerated) and the local resistance. He did not, however, play the mandolin (he was from Sicily, not Naples, the only region of Italy where the mandolin was currently a common instrument) in fact, his love was for cars, not music.

What the movie DOES get across is the brutality of the massacre, and the pointless loss of life between men who could have been friends (one of the German officers, an earnest young fellow, is portrayed sympathetically, and even befriends Corelli, but ultimately takes his part in the massacre).

It's worth watching for it's historical interest, and because of the questions it raises about life during wartime. While it's not a great movie by any definition, I'd say it's worth grabbing on Netflix if you've got any interest in the WWII era.

Also, it really makes me want a Neapolitan-style bowl-back mandolin like Cage plays in the film (yes, he really plays, fortunately his picking is a bit better than his accent).

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