Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Italy or Greece? The talented Captain Corelli ...

Summer holiday time? Two stunning books - two (three, actually) very different films

Anthony Minghella expanded Patricia Highsmith's novel THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY for his 1999 film, while James Madden's scriptwriter Shawn Slovo filleted Louis de Bernieres' CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN ....

Finally, a look at CAPT CORELLI which I had refused to see so far, as I had heard how the book was changed for the 2001 film. Again, the heavy hand of Miramax (see 54 review, below) is evident - it all looks marvellous on that Greek island of Cephalonia, 
and after the wonderful SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1990s label, mind you thats mainly due to the perfect witty script by Tom Stoppard), John Madden seemed the right man to bring it to the screen. First the casting - the only real Greek among the leads seems to be the venerable Irene Papas, John Hurt though is ideal as the doctor - but Spanish Penelope Cruz is Pelagia (she is also Italian in that recent Woody Allen - is there a worldwide shortage of Greek or Italian actresses so a Spanish actress, terrific in Spanish movies, has to play these nationalities?) and Nicolas Cage has been widely seen as ill-cast here.

The film is set against the backdrop of war between the Germans and Italians on that Greek island; the Italian Captain is billeted with Dr Iannis and his daughter, as we see the initial idyll fall away as the grim realities of war intrude. We also get Christian Bale as Mandras, the fisherman son of Drousula (Papas) who goes to join the resistance - Mandras here though is not as vicious as in the book, and as for Carlo, one of the main voices of the novel, as he tell us his story of his secret love for Corelli.  In the film Carlo (Piero Maggio) is reduced to a minor character whose sole function is to sacrifice himself to save Corelli's life when the Germans retaliate .... his heart-breaking story is gone. Then the ending is fudged too - the Captain and Pelagia meet again when they are old in that marvellous ending in the book - in the movie he just walks back after the war and its no big deal - rather like this forgettable film. After this and THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL which I loathed with a vengance (in that one, as per my review, 2000s label, Madden inserted a gay character not in the book, only to kill him off when no longer needed, as the others continue to live in India), so we be giving Madden films a wide berth from now on.  So the great complex novel has been Miramaxed: been turned into a date movie with added war stuff and no depth at all - its a Greek travelogue like MAMMA MIA!. Pauline Kael talked of "the higher trash" and "the lower trash" - this travesty is lower with a vengance. 

Minghella's glossy adaptation of Highsmith's novel  is an engaging if slightly hollow noir thriller. New York wannabe Tom Ripley's life changes after he is sent to haul an errant playboy home from Italy. Matt Damon is suitably sinister in the lead and Jude Law gives a convincing performance as the wastrel playboy. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Marge, Dickie's girlfriend, who rightly never quite trusts Ripley ... 

So there was less of CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN in the film, but we get a lot more of THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY as Minghella expands on Highsmith's original, a book I first discovered as a teen, setting me up for a lifetime passion for Highsmith books, developing the characters played by Cate Blanchett and Jack Davenport, and creating a whole new ending and making a bigger movie out of it. The '50s locations are terrific, around Capri and the Amalfi coast, and the period feel is laid on with a trowel, as they wear those fussy '50s outfits, hats and gloves. But in the original PLEIN SOLEIL - which I have written about here several times, as per label, filmed in 1959 and released in 1960, they (Delon, Ronet, Laforet) look marvellous in those casual clothes of the time, which still look fashionable now, and the mediterranean feel is perfectly captured as it really was in Henri Decae's stunning colour photography. 

Jude Law of course made his name here as the glamorous Dickie Greenleaf - no wonder needy nerd Matt Damon wants not only him but to be him, as bored Dickie toys with him and then thinks he can get rid of him when he has had enough - that murder on the boat is brilliantly done, and a nice contrast to the Rene Clement version in PLEIN SOLEIL (PURPLE NOON), where Delon, Ronet and Marie Laforet's Marge are effortlessly glamorous. As if Dickie is not enough of a heel, Minghella invents the sub-plot of Dickie making a local girl pregnant, and who drowns herself - presumably so we don't feel too bad about him being killed off halfway through the film. It all gets very convoluted then with the Blanchett and Davenport characters. It was obviously a labour of love for Minghella, as per his published screenplay.
So, two books I like a lot (the Highsmith is very re-readable for a book published initially in the mid-50s) and two very different films. The Madden Miramax CORELLI is disposable Trash, but we like Minghella's as a different addition to the Ripley canon - while the Clement-Delon version is always there, and now on Blu-ray, thats another for the collection then ... 

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