“With typical intelligence and complexity, director Marco Bellocchio weaves three stories around the politically hot topic of euthanasia, turning a real-life Italian national drama into engrossing narrative for sophisticated audiences,” begins Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “Refusing to offer easy answers or perspectives, Dormant Beauty is directed in such a way it doesn’t need to take a clear-cut position on the question, because like all the director’s work it has no concern with convincing people of anything, but a great deal of interest in illuminating contemporary Italian society…. Like Bellocchio’s film about the Aldo Moro assassination, Good Morning, Night, the story takes off from real events that obsessed Italians in 2009 when Beppe Englaro decided to take his daughter Eluana, in a coma for 17 years following a car accident, off mechanical life support. The most remarkable thing about the case was the father’s insistence on seeing Italian law applied rather than taking the easy route of doing it quietly on the sly (the film shows two examples). The case of Eluana became a cause celebre that pitted pro-life activists against the girl’s family; prime minister Silvio Berlusconi also got involved and politicians, seeing fertile ground for cashing in on voters’ strong feelings, turned the sad case into a parliamentary vote.”
Camillo de Marco, who also interviews Bellocchio for Cineuropa, sketches the major plot strands: “Toni Servillo plays the role of a senator (a former socialist) from Silvio Berlusconi’s majority coalition. The man is filled with doubts questions of conscience as he comes to a decision to vote against the law and resign, having given in to the pleas of his fatally ill wife who has been pleading with him to help her put an end to her life. His militant catholic daughter (Alba Rohrwacher), who has been protesting in front of the clinic where Eluana is hospitalized, falls in love with a young man (Michele Riondino) in favor of euthanasia. Isabelle Huppert is a famous actress who is watching over Eluana and praying for her to come out of her vegetative state. Meanwhile, a female drug addict, no longer seeing sense in going on, tries to end her life. She is stopped by a doctor (Piergiorgio Bellocchio) who watches over her in hospital.” The bottom line: Bellocchio “dismantles common perceptions and paves the way for newer and fresher ideas, marking a reawakening of reason from its deep sleep.”
Notes Jay Weissberg in Variety: “Right-wing politicos in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region were so furious about the province’s film commission supporting Dormant Beauty with €150,000 ($190,000) that they closed the commission down and channeled the film funding portfolio to the region’s conservative-leaning tourist board. The irony is that the pic avoids judging either side, instead saving its caustic attacks for ethics-free, self-protective government types.”
But for Screen‘s Lee Marshall, “despite some moments of quirky brilliance and strong performances from Toni Servillo and Alba Rohrwacher, the heart of a TV melodrama beats beneath Dormant Beauty’s pale arthouse skin.”
“There’s a more savage picture to be made about this subject matter, but it’s certainly not Bellocchio’s film,” finds the Playlist‘s Oliver Lyttelton. Still, “the film’s well-written, beautifully performed (not least from Huppert, who’s typically stunning as her icy, grief-stricken matriarch, and the moving Servillo, of Il Divo and Gomorrah fame), and nicely made, if a good 15 minutes overlong. But we couldn’t help but feel, given how controversial it proved in advance…, that it should’ve been willing to go a little closer to the edge.”
“Alas,” sighs Jo-Ann Titmarsh at CineVue, “there are too many scenes of men dashing into rooms just in the nick of time and too many ridiculous storylines for this fairytale to work. Bearing in mind the dramatic nature of the real life-and-death story at Dormant Beauty‘s core, this is an unacceptable and irresponsible piece of filmmaking for all its good intentions.”
Update, 9/15: “A very musical work (notice the aural swoops and drops of Bellocchio’s mise-en-scène), and a deeply humane one,” finds Fernando F. Croce, writing to MUBI’s Daniel Kasman, who responds, writing that Bellocchio “quite simply he directs the shit out of that movie. The screenplay and ‘hot button’ topic are structural and political fodder for introducing and then orchestrating and nimbly evolving this engrossing melodrama of morality, Catholicism, contemporary Italian politics, media images and multiple characters across churches, hospitals, mansions, clandestine government backrooms, television performances, protests and seedy motel rooms. The film was compulsive; it was impossible not to get caught up in its energetic valences.”
Updates, 9/30: “Dormant Beauty is in many respects standard, made-for-TV fare,” writes Darren Hughes, looking back on Toronto. “The script hits every predictable beat.” It’s “a bit of a disappointment after Bellocchio’s previous film, the excellent Vincere (2009)… but its best moments were some of the most exciting of the festival.”
Nigel Andrews profiles Bellocchio for the Financial Times.
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