out of Five
Running time: 163
Giuseppe Tornatore's sprawling, epic family drama is well acted and beautifully shot, but it's also much too long and lacks narrative focus.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), Baaria is set in the director's Sicilian hometown of Bagheria ("Baaria" in the local dialect) and spans several decades. The film opens with a delightful sequence in which young Pietro Torrenuova (Giuseppe Garufi) runs through the streets and then takes flight, laughing and grinning as the music soars and he swoops over the town below.
However, the film then focuses on an entirely different child, Peppino Torrenuova (Giovanni Gambino, then Davide Viviani, then finally Francesco Scianna), who eventually turns out to be Pietro's father. The film follows Peppino through his troublemaking childhood, his rebellious adolescence, marriage to the beautiful Mannina (model-turned-actress Margareth Made), his fights for workers' rights as a member of the Communist Party, the growth of his family and his eventual career as a politician.
All three Peppinos are excellent and there's strong support from Margareth Made, while Anna Faranna makes a strong impression as Peppino's feisty daughter Angela, who labels her father a Fascist for not letting her wear a short skirt. Similarly, Giuseppe Garufi has an extremely appealing screen presence as Pietro, so it's frustrating that the film doesn't give us more of his story.
The film is beautifully shot and Tornatore displays several impressive directorial flourishes throughout (he's particularly fond of the matching fade) but they often seem to come at the expense of the central story (e.g. Pietro flying over the streets doesn't really make any sense if Pietro's character remains unexplored). That said, there are some superb sequences, most notably an expertly staged bombing raid.
The biggest problem with the film is that it lacks narrative focus, to the point where it often feels like a collection of individual scenes rather than a coherent story. This wouldn't be quite so annoying over a shorter running time, but at almost three hours, the film eventually begins to feel too much like hard work. Another problem is that many of the references and details will be lost on anyone without a working knowledge of Italian history and politics.
Baaria is beautifully shot and superbly acted but its lengthy running time can't sustain the film's lack of narrative focus and it ultimately fails to satisfy on a dramatic or emotional level.