Captain Corelli's Mandolin
2001, R, 127 min. Directed by John Madden. Starring Irene Papas, Piero Maggio, David Morrissey, Christian Bale, John Hurt, Penélope Cruz, Nicolas Cage.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 24, 2001
The delicate tremolo of Captain Corelli's Mandolin lulls you so completely that it when it comes time for the movie to wrench your heart, you can't possibly respond to it in that way. Set on the postcard-perfect Greek island of Cephalonia during its Italian occupation during World War II, the film succeeds more as an enticement for a vacation on the Ionian Sea than anything else -- those crystalline waters and majestic mountains are so alluring that they're downright distracting. Even as the sun-soaked surroundings turn blood-soaked when the Germans do violence to this idyllic place, your attention remains diverted by the island's incredible beauty. The scenery might have stayed in the background if the film's romantic angle -- the wartime affair between a sensitive Italian soldier and the headstrong daughter of a Greek doctor -- had a hint of those passionate, doomed entanglements in which lovers are irrevocably locked in each other's hearts, even when separated by hundreds or thousands of miles. It is difficult, however, to imagine that this Captain Corelli would endlessly search the brilliant Hellenic beaches for his lost Lara after the war's end. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that these two would ever go out on a second date. Neither a badly miscast Cage nor an oddly dispassionate Cruz remotely suggest the ardor of love's passion, except for a fleeting scene in which she boldly dances with another serviceman to attract the captain's attention, after repeatedly giving him the cold shoulder. Other than that, these two just don't click. Perhaps blowing up things for so long has robbed Cage of the ability to pull off this guise as leading man. And while he may be Italian-American in ethnic origin, he ain't no Italian -- Cage looks like an American, acts like an American, and speaks like an American, even in his fleeting attempts to use an accent. Cruz has gotten quite a build-up in the States recently, particularly with her supposed romance with freshly divorced Tom Cruise, but there's not much in Captain Corelli's Mandolin to justify the hype. Her soulful eyes and ripe mouth overwhelm a visage seemingly too small for her features, leaving her face an enigma for the most part, unless she makes an effort to use those features in some pronounced way. About the only thing that succeeds in Captain Corelli's Mandolin (other than tempting you to sell everything you own and live on a Greek island paradise) is the way it relates war's absurd way of creating and destroying human associations in the name of country. The Italians are the uninvited guests on Cephalonia, and yet they are a reluctant enemy who pose little, if any, danger to their Greek hosts. One minute, the Germans are the allies of the Italians; the next minute, they are massacring them. In those moments in which it ponders this ludicrous nature of man, Captain Corelli's Mandolin finds something to contemplate other than the vistas in its milieu.