Metod Pevec’s Tango Abrazos (Vaje v objemu) (Slovenia, 2012) probably seems like a tame and inconsequential little bittersweet comedy to most American viewers; after all, most mainstream versions of these stories involve grown-ups swooning to the lure of la danse, and the l’amour fou that it can instill, leading to knock-down, drag-out emotional conflicts, illicit, guilt ridden couplings and (*snore*) the reawakening of the true love that each participant had taken for granted beforehand. But, at least, for me, it’s very refreshing to find a film that deals with all of that in far less purple, far less histrionic, but no less effective, fashion.
Two couples, unknown to each other, decide to take tango lessons. The class commences, they meet, they eventually become friends and socialize regularly, and they all participate in the potential steaminess that the tango itself evokes in anyone who takes it fairly seriously. All of the stirring of passions, all of the reassessment of each of their commitments to each other, and the examination of the values that have shaped them up until now, predictably arise. But Pevec isn’t particularly interested in the usual formulaic conflict-and-resolution rhythms of films and stories like this – he, and the characters he’s written, are far more credibly contemplative about the situation, and, while the film is very funny, he doesn’t use the situations to contrive jokey set-pieces or gasp-inducing revelations. Adults enter into a situation, adults explore how that situation affects the relationships they’re already in, and they come to adult conclusions at the end. There’s no eternal-adolescent wish fulfillment, no one learns valuable ‘lessons,’ no one is embarrassed, no one behaves differently simply because the script and/or writer says they should. Everything that happens in the film is grounded in the very real, believable, consistent characterizations of its four excellent actors. I won’t launch into yet another rant on why American films seem incapable of pulling this off. I’ll simply say that this is a very good, uniquely rewarding comedy, and that if you’re a fan of the tango, and the cultural background behind it, then you’ll enjoy it even more. As I did. (Slovenians are this hip about the tango? God bless ‘em!)
‘Tango Abrazos’ screens on Friday, March 22nd at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 24th at 7:30 p.m.
The title of Marco Bellocchio’s new film, Dormant Beauty (Bella Addormentata) (Italy, 2012) already tells you what his take is on the elaborately woven threads of his narrative. The story is an examination of the circumstances concerning the real-life case of Eluana Englaro, an Italian woman who, due to a catastrophic auto accident, was rendered quadriplegic and unresponsive in 1992. She was apparently still respirating, but needed to be tube-fed. Her father, Beppino Englaro, and a few friends, testified that a year before her own accident, Eluana was upset over a catastrophic motorcycle accident that an acquaintance of hers had suffered. She expressed her wishes to them that if anything like that ever happened to her, and her free will was no longer available to her, that they wouldn’t allow her to be kept alive through extraordinary measures. Nonetheless, Eluana, post-accident, was cared for at a Catholic hospital in Lecco, and, in 1994, the nuns there formally requested that Eluana’s father leave her exclusively in their care to be tended to for the duration of her ‘life.’ Eluana’s father then had Eluana transferred to another hospital, where he would be free to decide to end her feeding, according to her wishes. Italian courts, however, executed injunctions against him; after a number of failed appeals, Beppino Englaro was finally allowed to end his daughter’s life in 2008, over seventeen years later.
Our own American experiences with the Terri Schiavo case will give you pretty good perspective on the social, political and moral implications here. Take the level of sensationalism, vehemence and near-hysteria that the Schiavo case generated, plant the Vatican itself a mile or two away, and add the overall volatility of Italian politics (which makes our Congress look like a pearl-clutching quilter’s club), and you have an almost unnavigable miasma of anger, piety, secular righteousness and political opportunism.
But, like the skilled and experienced filmmaker that Bellocchio is, he’s far more interested in showing us things than telling us about them, or indicating what we’re to think after we've seen it. Bellocchio (with his co-writers Veronica Raimo and Stefano Rulli) creates three tangential stories around the Englaro centerpiece. A Senator (Toni Servillo) makes his way to Rome to vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on Prime Minister Berlusconi’s directive to continue sustaining Eluana, despite the decision of the court, knowing that his equally passionate daughter, Maria (Alba Rohrwacher) is on her way to join the throngs demonstrating at the hospital supporting Eluana’s right-to-life. Meanwhile, the doctors and nurses at another hospital in Rome are surveying their own attitudes about the crisis, while one doctor in particular, Dr. Pallido (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) chooses to treat a suicidal drug addict (Maya Sanza) above and beyond the call of his duty. Meanwhile… we meet a famous actress (Isabelle Huppert, with her character provocatively credited as ‘Divine Mother’ [Divina Madre] by the film’s authors), who has given up her career to tend to her own daughter, in her own elegant home, whom also seems to be in a persistent vegetative state, and must contend with the mixed feelings of her husband and son, who are there to help her commemorate the daughter’s birthday.
For Bellocchio, Life = Beauty. And, no matter how contentious the other viewpoints represented, no matter how passionately one side argues against the other, no matter how deeply anyone’s convictions are held, Bellocchio sustains that powerful abstract concept like a life preserver; life’s not just political, life’s not just religious or spiritual, life’s not just chemistry or biology. He doesn't argue one side or the other for himself, but he’s a powerful advocate for taking every side of the argument seriously, respectfully. As an atheist and a former politically active Communist, it’s easy to assume that he’d be taking a somewhat doctrinaire view. But there’s an interesting quote in the film’s press kit that seems worth sharing: “…considering the film will be perceived as supporting secular values, it is worth to remember the great twentieth-century Catholic philosopher, Jean Guitton, who wrote: “It seems to me entirely in accord with God’s plan for humanity, to bring an end to needless suffering.”
While the film’s not quite in the same league as his flat-out brilliant Vincere from three years ago, it’s still pretty impressive, even if it feels slightly overstuffed, even if it indulges in a little too much emotional-trigger button-pushing, even if it could be ten or fifteen minutes shorter. This is a serious film with serious ideas, and I highly recommend it.
‘Dormant Beauty’ screens on Friday, March 22nd at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday the 24th at 5:00 p.m.