In a case recalling Terri Schiavo, the fate of a comatose young woman transfixed Italy in early 2009, when the Berlusconi-led government tried to keep her on life support despite a court's ruling and her father's wishes. The story of Eluana Englaro sits at the center of
The proportions of the narrative strands sometimes feel off, but the movie pulses with the unpredictability of full-blooded characters. Amid protests, prayer vigils and political maneuvers, Bellocchio parses matters of freedom and faith, devotion and exploitation. Senators lounge in candlelit baths straight out of ancient Rome; an ER is rocked by pandemonium; opinions blare from TV screens. Everyone is trying to save someone.
Toni Servillo, who starred in the director's Oscar-winning "The Great Beauty," is affecting as a senator facing a crisis of conscience: For reasons that gradually become clear, he's compelled to vote against his party's bill to prolong Englaro's life support. It's a move that would end his parliamentary career and perhaps damage his relationship with his devout daughter (Alba Rohrwacher). She participates in anti-euthanasia demonstrations and falls for a man who supports the other side, their love complicated more by his unstable brother than by their difference of opinion.
FOR THE RECORD:
"Dormant Beauty": In the June 13 Calendar section, a capsule movie review for "Dormant Beauty" implied that its director, Marco Bellocchio, also had directed "The Great Beauty" from 2013. "The Great Beauty" was directed by Paolo Sorrentino. —
Elsewhere, a fastidiously Catholic actress (Isabelle Huppert, in high-melodramatic mode) tends to her own coma-stricken daughter, princess-pretty on a breathing machine. Her wannabe-actor son views her career-sidetracking ministrations as a form of suicide. In plainer terms, a young doctor (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Marco's son) keeps vigil over a woman who's a suicidal addict (Maya Sansa). Her small, humbling act of kindness caps the film's rich churn with a quiet surge of emotion.
MPAA rating: None; in Italian with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.