What started with lightness and charm ends in a sadness so incompatible with the original mood of the film that we can think only that, after winning us so thoroughly in the beginning, Tornatore just didn't know where to go.

THE STARMAKER

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


For roughly 45 minutes "The Starmaker" is Giuseppe Tornatore's thoroughly charming follow-up to his memorable film, "Cinema Paradiso." Then, after developing a marvelous premise, he turns his movie from a sweet tale of a traveling con man into a morbid, sometimes brutal series of unlikely twists and turns.

Joe Morelli (Sergio Castellitto) drives through the small towns of Sicily in a rattletrap truck that is too tall for its own good and topped by Joe's huge roll of a tent. He summons the citizens through his loudspeaker with promises of fame and fortune in exchange for the 1500 lira they must give him for a screen test.

At this moment, Joe's tent rises slowly in the village square, pulled up by some unseen hand until it stands there gloriously, an irresistible invitation to villagers with dreams. At Joe's instruction, men, women, and children pour themselves into recitations of the final lines from "Gone With the Wind."

The scene is a wonderful reminder of the value of subtitles as opposed to dubbing. Watching Sicilians bringing all their culture and heritage to bear on Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in Italian is magical. The rhythms of the language delivering the lines from a very American movie is a sweet juxtaposition, and it sets the tone for Joe's leisurely ramble through the countryside, while he stashes his profits in the bottom of his early 50s WebCor wire recorder.

Writer/Director Tornatore submerges us in the culture of the villages. People of all ages pour forth from windowless, often war-damaged stone houses to press their eyes against the tent walls in fascination with the possibilities that lie within. Everyone, everywhere, it seems, loves the making of movies.

Stopped by a policeman who suspects his scheme, Joe soon has the brigadier talking to his camera. Jumped by robbers, he quickly seduces them and insists that they pay for their tests. This is one persuasive flimflam man.

Up to this point, the film has washed over us in a gentle wave of pleasure. What does Tornatore do after he has exhausted his parade of hopeful actors? He commits cinematic suicide.

The small-time con game takes on a new dimension as Joe rips the film from his camera, discards it, and says of the villagers, "Dumb beasts and rednecks." When this meanness suddenly surfaces, we realize that these people have been baring their souls to a camera held in the hands of a man who detests them. They have reached for a dream, and they have been betrayed.

An enchanting film sinks slowly--for another very long hour--into unpleasant sex, a brutal beating, and the emotional destruction of a young Sicilian girl. What started with lightness and charm ends in a sadness so incompatible with the original mood of the film that we can think only that, after winning us so thoroughly in the beginning, Tornatore just didn't know where to go. He chose ugliness and lost us along the way.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 494
Studio : Moramax
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h53m


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