Middle East
Fortune struck for these Syrian migrants, but can they make it in California?
Los Angeles Times

'Captain Corelli's Mandolin'

Times Film Critic

By the time "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" has sounded its last note, pesky questions leap to mind like pesky fish in a wine-dark sea. Who can say, for instance:

* why "Corelli's Mandolin," a title good enough to make the original Louis de Bernieres novel an international bestseller, had to be upgraded to include the protagonist's rank;

* why it took four major production entities--Universal, Studio Canal, Miramax and Working Title--to turn that admired novel into a phlegmatic, middlebrow romantic drama so stodgy that even the goats look bored; * how John Madden, the same director who brought "Shakespeare in Love" to life, could have been responsible for this comatose effort;

* how star Penelope Cruz manages to emerge unscathed, like some cinematic Wonder Woman, from the wreckage of film after film?

OK, anyone with eyes to see knows the answer to that one, so here's the really tough question: What's the story with co-star Nicolas Cage's exasperating Italian accent?

Playing Antonio Corelli, an artillery captain in the Italian army stationed on the Greek island of Cephalonia during World War II, Cage displays a pronunciation so bizarre it's already led to waggish comments around town about "Captain Fonzarelli's Mandolin." Given the polyglot nature of the cast, with actors from at least five countries taking their best shots at the English language, it's unclear why Cage felt he needed an accent or, stranger still, why it took him a reported seven months to come up with this one.

That artificiality is typical of a film without a true note, an undemanding picture-postcard production heavy with "I don't know how to say what I feel inside" dialogue from screenwriter Shawn Slovo. Things do improve in the film's more dramatic final third, when the war gets closer and unpleasant things start to happen, but the production never loses its quality of exasperating bogusness.

With its time frame much abbreviated from the book's half-century, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" begins without the captain or his instrument. We're introduced to Cephalonia in 1940, a place of fishing, dancing and spectacular vistas that reeks of local color and colorful rivalries. In Cruz's Pelagia, it's also got the completely gorgeous ingenue no rural enclave is ever without.

The place's unofficial historian is Pelagia's father, wise old Dr. Iannis (John Hurt), a kindly but unorthodox medico who uses a fishhook and a hammer to cure deafness (don't ask) and says sage things like "we should not ask why we are wounded, only if the wound can be healed." True story.

Iannis thinks his brainy daughter, who is studying to be a doctor in her spare time, will only be happy marrying a foreigner, but Pelagia gets herself engaged to Mandras ("American Psycho's" still psychotic-looking Christian Bale), an ardent but limited local fisherman (isn't that always the case?) whose protective mother, Drosoula (Irene Papas), has more dark and mistrustful looks than Medusa.

Then the war comes and Mandras conveniently goes off to be disillusioned and, like Tom Courtenay's character in "Doctor Zhivago," make periodic surly reappearances. Enter the Italians, complete with their own complement of prostitutes, the classic buffoonish occupiers.

None is so clownish, however, as the musical captain, a lover of life who responds to " Heil , Hitler" with a cheerful " Heil , Puccini" and can do things with his instrument Bill Monroe was only dreaming about.

The captain catches sight of Pelagia as he and his men are marching through town, and he shouts out a boisterous and very embarrassing " bella bambina at 2 o'clock" to his troop that, in a sane world, would have ended any possibility of a relationship right there.

In truth, the sensible Pelagia is not so happy with this village idiot of a captain. "Is everything a joke to you?" she grouses, adding later: "What is there to sing about. We're in the middle of a war." The fates, however, not to mention the script, are against her. These two just have to fall in love: Their kiss is on the poster.

That darn war intervenes at this point, and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" gets a lot more serious to no real effect. We do learn that war does bad things to good people, and that a dreadful accent doesn't vanish even in dire circumstances. Both good things to know.

MPAA rating: R, for some violence, sexuality and language. Times guidelines: The violence is more graphic than the sex.

"Captain Corelli's Mandolin"

Nicolas Cage: Captain Antonio Corelli

Penelope Cruz: Pelagia

John Hurt: Dr. Iannis

Christian Bale: Mandras

David Morrissey: Captain Weber

Irene Papas: Drosoula

Universal Pictures/Studio Canal/Miramax Films presents a Working Title production, released by Universal Pictures. Director John Madden. Producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kevin Loader, Mark Huffam. Screenplay Shawn Slovo, based on the novel by Louis de Bernieres. Cinematographer John Toll. Editor Mick Audsley. Costumes Alexandra Byrne. Music Stephen Warbeck. Production design Jim Clay. Art director Gary Freeman. Set decorator John Bush. Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes.


In general release.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times