Rated R - Running Time: 2:07 - Released 8/17/01

I guess it's something about the turn of the millennium that has instigated a rash of novels and movies about World War II, arguably the most important global event of the 20th century. Taking its place among the greatest of such films is John Madden's war-torn romance Captain Corelli's Mandolin, based on the book by Louis de Bernières and adapted for the screen by award-winning South African writer Shawn Slovo (A World Apart). History-loving director Madden, who helmed 1997's powerful but underappreciated Mrs. Brown and then won the Best Director Oscar for 1998's Shakespeare In Love, does not fail to live up to the tradition for excellence he has established; Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a deeply moving film sprinkled with romance and humor which he folds expertly into the mix of violence and tragedy that was the rule of the day in WWII-era Europe. It provides yet another opportunity for actors Nicolas Cage, Penélope Cruz, and John Hurt to show off their considerable technique, and allows us to witness the beauty of the Greek landscape through the eyes of Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll (Braveheart).

The action begins in an Italian-occupied Greek village in 1940, a very small, earthquake-plagued island named Cephallonia. Although the visiting soldiers, led by Capt. Antonio Corelli (Cage), are more interested in wine, women, and especially song, than they are in ruling the Greek population, local physician Dr. Iannis (Hurt) and his beautiful daughter Pelagia (Cruz) do not welcome the intruders. However, when Dr. Iannis realizes that housing an Italian officer may mean better access to medical supplies, he grudgingly invites Capt. Corelli to stay at his home. Soon the affable captain has won the hearts of practically everyone in town, not only with his friendly demeanor and his aversion to violence, but by playing his cherished mandolin, which he does with grace and eloquence. Pelagia, whose fiancé Mandras (Christian Bale) has gone to fight with the Partisans, is the last to fall to Corelli's charms, but fall she does, soon finding herself in love with the enemy. The sticky situation that develops when Mandras returns from the front is made much more difficult when Mussolini relinquishes power to Hitler and the Germans take over the town, forcibly disarming the incredulous Italian army.

The epic quality of this movie is surprising given its small cast of principal characters. Featuring romantic imagery and savage war footage that rivals any of the recent similarly-themed films, Madden's essay is touching and at the same time brutal, brimming with the emotional conflict that surges within its characters. Antonio is a peaceful man forced to play by the rules of a violent contest; his attempts to win over the reticent Pelagia, and his frustration at her unwillingness to concede, is shown in Cage's stormy looks and desperate overtures. Moreover, the sweetly romantic mandolin ballads (penned by Stephen Warbeck), which Cage appears to be actually playing live, are a stirring counterpoint to the uncomfortable situation in which he finds himself.

Cruz is strong and yet eminently delicate as the conflicted woman engaged in her own struggle between the richly felt emotions of her heart and the equally strong feelings she has for family and country. Finally, Hurt reasserts his position as one of the great actors of our time with a touching turn as Pelagia's loving but deeply patriotic father. The production is richly layered with the colors of the emotional spectrum, brought out with finesse by this talented director and his team. *****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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