1993 Directed by Paolo, Vittorio Taviani. Starring Galatea Ranzi; Claudio Bigagli, Elisa Giani, Michael Vartan, Lino Capolicchio, Constanze Engelbrecht, Ciro Esposito, Renato Carpentieri.
REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., April 29, 1994
As master storytellers of Italian cinema, the Taviani brothers (Padre Padrone and Night of the Shooting Stars) continue to do what they do best -- this time, reaching into the past to retell a popular legend the directors learned at their mother's knee. In present times, Luigi Benedetti (Capolicchio) is traveling through the Tuscan countryside with his family (Engelbrecht, Giani, and Esposito) to visit his father Massimo (Carpentieri), whom he has not seen for ten years and who has never seen his grandchildren. What begins as a way to entertain children during a long and uneventful road trip unfolds as a dark fairy tale filled with the extremes of passion, lost love, greed, betrayal, and revenge. Luigi takes his family -- and the viewer -- into the past as he relates the legend of the Benedetti curse, which arose from the misdeeds of family ancestors some 200 years previously when Napoleon's army passed through the area. The innocent Elisabetta (Ranzi) and handsome Jean (Vartan) -- a soldier in the French army -- share the beauty and wonder of a mutual love-at-first-sight until her brother (Bigagli) steals the gold that is left in Jean's charge. Placed under arrest and facing execution unless the gold turns up, Jean pines for Elisabetta -- whom he nicknames “Fiorile” (meaning loosely, “springtime”) -- in a letter while her family, unbeknownst to her, schemes to hold on to their ill-gotten wealth and let the innocent soldier face the firing squad. Elisabetta is left heartbroken, and pregnant, vowing eternal revenge by cursing the Benedetti name. Springtime erodes into a generational winter of discontent over the centuries, as Elisabetta's curse takes its karmic hold, fortifying the affluent, powerful family's whispered, snickered reputation as “Maledetti” (cursed) throughout the Tuscan province. The Tavianis' screenplay and direction make for an engrossing epic that seamlessly takes the viewer into the past and present, and manages to avoid generic soap opera pitfalls in the process. Rounding out the film are memorable performances by the actors who perform in dual roles as key members of the Benedetti clan over the years. Fiorile is as welcome as a sunny spring day with the ominous, dark beauty of an intense, looming thunderstorm.