Posted: 08/18/2001


Captain Corelli’s Mandolin


by Chris Wood

Cage and Cruz make their own music.

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On the Greek island of Cephalonia in 1941, the Second World War has hit home to the people who live there. In an Italian-German occupancy, the islanders, including Dr. Iannis (John Hurt) and his daughter, Pelagia (Penélope Cruz), who wants to follow her father’s footsteps in medicine, have their lives altered, like earthquakes, which change the earth permanently.

However, the occupying Italians, with Captain Antonio Corelli (Nicolas Cage) as a translator/mandolin player, are only interested in singing, dancing, drinking wine and being happy, and don’t seem to share the Germans’ strong views toward a superior race, often trying to incorporate the Greeks into their celebrations.

Pelagia is distraught because her fiancé, Mandras (Christian Bale), has gone off to fight in the war, and she has not received a letter from him in some time. Then, in an exchange for medical supplies, Corelli, his mandolin and his charm come to stay at Pelagia and Iannis’ house. Initially, she shies away from his carefree spirit and love of music, but the attraction is there and her father is the first to see it.

The picture is based on Louis de Bernieres’ 1994 novel Corelli’s Mandolin and therefore will be examined for how closely the movie follows the source. Some concern that the book would not translate well to the big screen may keep its readers away from the movie. The over-intensified love story, which ends up being very drawn out, might prove the naysayers correct.

Nevertheless, with John Madden, director of Shakespeare In Love, at the helm, the film manages to keep interest, despite its poky pace, and even though Cage and Cruz do not totally pull off their characters’ respective ethnic accents, there are romantic sparks, and a love triangle that emerges when Pelagia discovers that her fiancé has returned, injured, but still alive.

John Hurt as the calm, wise, Dr. Iannis, who performs operations like pulling a pea from a local’s ear to restore his hearing, narrates the almost two and a half-hour film, speaking about the island’s history and its pain. He also relates to his daughter’s dilemma with her forbidden love (Corelli) and her patriot fiancé, whose dedication to opposing the occupying Italians and few Germans goes a bit too far when he fails to help a Greek woman who has feelings for German Captain Weber (David Morrissey), allowing her to be hung as a traitor.

The movie tears apart a romance, though not forever, and puts friends Weber and Corelli at opposing ends of the gun barrel — but this all could have been accomplished in less time.

The long and short: A nice song, but a little long.

Chris Wood is not a syndicated film critic, but he plays one on TV.

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