And it’s been in the headlines plenty in recent years. In the U.K., stroke survivor Tony Nicklinson, who’d suffered from locked-in syndrome for seven years, went before the courts to argue for his right to die, which was denied (he passed away a few weeks later from pneumonia). Seven years ago, the case of Terri Schiavo, who’d been in a vegetative state since 1990, dominated headlines as politicians wrangled over whether her husband’s decision to have her life support shut off should be allowed. And Italy was divided in 2008 and 2009 by the case of Eluana Englaro, and it’s this that serves as the backdrop for “Dormant Beauty,” the latest from Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio (“Vincere”).
Politician Uliano Beffardi (Toni Servillo) is the closest to the case: a member of Berlusconi’s party, he’s set to break with his colleagues and side with the President in the crucial vote, thanks to his own experiences with his terminally ill wife. Even so, he’s going against the wishes of his religious daughter Maria (Alba Rohrwacher). She goes to Ulina to pray for Englaro, but en route, meets Roberto (Michele Riondino), who’s accompanying his bipolar brother to protest for the other side. The two fall in love, but face obstacles beyond their differing viewpoints.
It’s an unwieldy number of storylines to struggle through, and we found it a little hard to engage with the film due to the way that Bellocchio structures it. Often, he’ll focus closely, with only a handful of cutaways, on one storyline in particular for 15-20 minutes. As a result, major characters are barely touched on or introduced until a good 40 minutes into the film, and for some time, you question why some of them have been included at all.
For the most part, however, the director does tie them together neatly at the end, with most paying off nicely in a thematic sense (though we’re not sure about the romance between Maria and Roberto – it seems to be from a different film entirely -- and the Huppert section ends a little abruptly).
Less successful are the satirical elements that come with the political section. This part drew big laughs from the Italian section of the press corps, so maybe it plays better with the home crowd, but much of it felt a little toothless and safe, hitting low-hanging fruit because it knew it’d get a response. There’s a more savage picture to be made about this subject matter, but it’s certainly not Bellocchio's film.
Still, that’s fair enough, and the film’s well-written, beautifully performed (not least from Huppert, who’s typically stunning as her icy, grief-stricken matriarch, and the moving Servillo, of “Il Divo” and “Gomorrah” fame), and nicely made, if a good 15 minutes overlong. But we couldn’t help but feel, given how controversial it proved in advance (politicians cut the entire budget of the Friuli Venezia Giulia Film Commission, who partially backed the project, entirely because of the film), that it should've been willing to go a little closer to the edge. [B-]