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Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) starstarstar

Reviewed 2001-07-19
: This could have been a better film. The leads could have been a real Greek and a real Italian, rather than an actress born in Spain and an American who Second Look Reviewmerely descended from Italian stock (nephew of Francis Ford Coppola). It could have followed the novel more closely, too, but I try never to taint my appreciation of a film by reading the book: they are quite different forms of communication, requiring quite different storytelling methods. But, contrary to the majority of the critics, I don't think Captain Corelli's Mandolin was all that bad as a love story.

The titular role, as played by Nicolas Cage, is a warrior too full of love to make war until necessity beckons. The Italian army, allied with the Germans in World War II, cross over into Cephallonia to occupy the country they couldn't defeat in war after the Germans win the battle for them. The Captain is billeted in the home of the town doctor, Iannis (John Hurt), whose beautiful daughter, Pelagia (Penélope Cruz) he is teaching his craft. Not only does Pelagia hate the Italians, whom the Greeks defeated in Albania, but she is betrothed to a fisherman-soldier, Mandras (Christian Bale), who conveniently goes off to war as Corelli arrives. The romantic prospects do not look promising.

But, if you think that, then you underestimate love -- and the talents of the lead actors. Included among them are excellent supporting performances from Hurt as the wise old doctor who knows his daughter better than she knows herself, and Irene Pappas, who was actually born in Greece, as the mother of spurned lover Mandras. The script (by Shawn Slovo, based on the novel Capitaine Corelli by Louis de Bernières) is sappy at times, but really gets exciting about two-thirds of the way through when the Germans come to "idyllic" Cephallonia, which apparently suffers occasional earthquakes as well as wars. Director John Madden, who had such a sure hand on the excellent Shakespeare in Love, keeps things moving without chancing any leap toward brilliance. But he does get just the right meltdown from Cruz and just the right heat from Cage.

Now, about his Italian accent... Oh, who cares? Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a romance, not documentary!

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.