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November 05, 2014

Dormant Beauty

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Bella Addormentata
Marco Bellochio - 2012
Kino Lorber Region 1 DVD

It was purely coincidence that I would be seeing Dormant Beauty at the same time that Brittany Maynard's medically assisted suicide would be in the news. The closest in recent memory that the debate over the right to die made serious headlines in the United States was in the case of Karen Ann Quinlan, who remained in a coma for ten years. Marco Bellochio's film is about a more recent even in Italy, 2009, taking place during the last days of Eluano Englaro, in a coma for seventeen years, in a case that involved the government trying to intercede on behalf of the Vatican.

For Bellochio, the personal is almost always political, and vice versa. The film has four parallel stories, two of which are more directly connected to Englaro. A senator, dealing with his dying wife's request to not continue life with artificial support, has a crisis of conscious when deciding to maintain his political career by voting against the right to die along with the rest of his party. His daughter, Maria, has joined the protest against euthanasia, traveling to Udine, where Englaro spent her last days. At a rest stop restaurant, Maria and her friends encounter two brothers who are also traveling to Udine, in join the right to die supporters. Overhearing the conversation of the girls to bring water to Englaro, the younger brother splashes his glass of water in Maria's face. The older brother, Roberto, takes out his handkerchief, tenderly drying off Maria's face. It's love at first sight, even though Maria and Roberto haven't quite figured that out yet.

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In the other stories, a young doctor tends to a suicidal young woman, a drug addict who sees no point in living, and a mother, a famed actress, keeps alive her comatose daughter at the expense of her relationship with her son and husband.

In an interview, Bellochio discusses how the title could have just as well been translated to English as "Sleeping Beauty". Probably to do so would have caused a misunderstanding with audience expectations. Further, the title could well refer to Englaro, seen briefly in a photograph on a news show, as well as the daughter of the actress, the drug addict, and the senator's wife.

Unlike the last film by Marco Bellochio, Vincere, with its more immediately recognizable subject matter of the rise of Mussolini, Dormant Beauty has received a less heralded stateside release. This might not be surprising as it took me some time to do some quick online research to get a clearer idea of the context, particularly in regards to the narrative strands for the senator and his daughter.

Even without understanding all of the political and cultural strands, there are several moments worth savoring - Alba Rohrwacher and Michele Riondino as Maria and Roberto, having a spontaneous tryst, with Maria quickly moving the crucifix around her neck backwards, Isabelle Huppert as the actress, reciting the famed lines from Lady Macbeth in her sleep, and Maya Sansa, who won as Italy's Best Supporting actress, as the addict squaring off against the doctor.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 5, 2014 06:36 AM