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Captain Corelli's Mandolin

movie reviewvideo review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz
Director: John Madden
Rated: R
RunTime: 129 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genres: Drama, Romance, War


*Also starring: Christian Bale, Martin Glyn Murray, John Hurt, David Morrisey, Irene Papas



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

As I was taking in "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," I couldn't help thinking of two bits of advice that I got early on; one from my high school social studies teacher, the other from an older friend and mentor. The first and less important is that political alliances are temporary. According to Mr. Pompa back in 10th grade, difficult as it is to believe given our great relationship with England today, we went to war with the UK twice and were it not for the fact that both our countries have McDonald's outlets, there's no telling when we'd be battling it out again. The second, and one which served me well over and over and over is: forget flowers and chocolate. The way to a woman's heart is with music. What does all this have to do with a picture about a romance that occurs during World War 2? Absolutely everything.

John Madden's movie, based on Louis De Bernieres' novel and set amid John Toll's picture-postcard photography on the smashing Greek island of Cephallonia, opens in 1940 as the Italians, far better suited for wine, women and song than for war, are suffering setbacks while advancing in southeastern Europe under Mussolini's orders. A smaller Greek army has pushed them back back into Albania but a force has nonetheless landed with the help of Hitler's Germans on the island of Cephallonia, and for a time even the Nazis under Captain Gunther Weber (David Morrissey), are chilling out as they watch Italian Captain Antonio Corelli (Nicolas Cage) and his men singing Puccini and Verdi, enjoying the sun, the sand, and the Greek women. While Corelli sets his eyes on the daughter of Dr. Iannis (John Hurt), Pelagia (Penelope Cruz)--who is engaged to Greek resistance fighter Mandras (Christian Bale)--outside forces are ominous. Italy, which had been a reluctant ally of Germany, has surrendered to the Allies, and Germany--none too pleased by this while rightly convinced that the Italian troops on Cephallonia are about to turn their weapons over to the Greek resistance--are about to reverse their affiliation with their confederates to the south with extreme prejudice.

"Captain Corelli's Mandolin," then, is, like "Pearl Harbor," both a war story and a romance, more realistic than Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer's summer blockbuster in the courtship department but quite a bit less flashy in scenes of combat. Shawn Slovo's screenplay gives the best lines to John Hurt in the role of Pelagia's astute ol' dad, a veritable fortune cookie of wisdom about love, life and medicine. His learning must come strictly from experience since he couldn't possibly raise the money to acquire books--in one scene he's shown getting paid for medical treatment with a live chicken. (Sounds like more than most of our HMO docs deserve, doesn't it?) Iannis tells his little girl not to marry Mandras not because he's an American psycho- -he's not, he's Greek and he was born on Cephallonia--but because he doesn't know how to read and he's of a lower social class than the ambitious young woman. Iannis also knows from experience that there's a difference between love and being in love--the latter being what happens in the beginning when the earth movies while the former occurs during the next forty years when you're shopping for Pampers and washing the dishes.

I haven't the foggiest idea how these different groups communicated with one another in real life, because Mr. Pompa, my 10th grade social studies teacher, never told us about Cephallonia, but all the folks in John Madden's picture have a dandy time speaking in English while maintaining their special European accents throughout. Nic Cage has no problem with his Italian inflection and really looks as though he's playing that mandolin that he carries around on his back. Remember what I said in the beginning about how serenading women is better than giving them chocolate and flowers? In the movie's best scene, Pelagia is about to stomp away from Corelli--after all, he's the enemy--when the Italian whips out his instrument and strums away. She's transfixed.

"Captain Corelli's Mandolin" is not a great romance and not a great war movie, though it tries to combine to two genres in the way that major combat fare ("The Bridge on the River Kwai," "The Longest Day," "Saving Private Ryan") wouldn't think of doing. As summer entertainment, though, it provides some spectacular photography which you can take in from your air- conditioned location without suffering Cephallonia's August heat.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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