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Dormant Beauty

Film One Star
Dormant Beauty was the last film I caught at the Glasgow Film Festival, deciding to dodge out of the credits of the excellent film Welcome to the Punch (Filmstalker review) and the Q&A; which followed. I was hoping it was going to live up to the promise from the festival blurb. The connection to the true story, the multiple stories that each had something to say about the issues involved around people being kept alive in a coma, and of course the appearance of Isabelle Huppert.

It all seemed to suggest that this was going to be an intelligent film with lots to say about the decisions of life and death and the individual's right to life.

Plot.pngDormantBeauty.jpgThe multiple threads of this story all crowd around an issue in Italy that captured the media and therefore the public attention, that of Eluana Englaro who had been in a coma for seventeen years and had become the focus of a battle for those for and against euthanasia. At the time of the film the Italian Parliament are about to vote on whether to turn off her life support machines or not. In the streets people are gathering for prayer and protest and the media's attention is full on.

The film follows a number of stories around this main thread. A retired actress is committed to keeping her daughter on life support at home, convinced she is still cognitive in some way and fervently praying she will wake up; A young man looks after his less able and demanding brother while he longs for his own life, a life that is hinted at when he meets a young woman; That young woman is part of the vigil praying for the woman in the coma but is drawn instead to the possible relationship with this young man; The young woman is the daughter of a politician who is about to vote on the very issue and he is having his own crisis of faith as he decides whether or not to vote against his party on this very issue.

TheFilm.pngThe opening of the film is confusing and muddled with a number of characters appearing all too quickly without a great deal of introduction. I did find I was struggling to keep up with most of the threads as they whipped back and forth with little background development. Add to that the fact that we really don't get a decent explanation of the main thread holding all these stories together felt like a major flaw.

It wasn't a feeling that was just at the beginning of the film either, just about every situation was passing us by without us really understanding anything of the story. If more time had been spent on these introductions and the core thread then the film would have captured me earlier than it did. As it was I felt like I could quite happily leave this muddle and head home. I didn't though and I stuck with it and things did get a little better.

With the very short introduction about this main theme it felt the central core was missing from the story. It did build slightly over time built through the other stories and that in itself was an interesting aspect and I enjoyed the way that we discovered the story through everyone else's, but we really needed the grounding from the beginning and to be totally honest we don't learn that much more.

Some threads were wasted altogether such as the girl falling in love. Of course you could argue that it was there to show some of the positives of life and the joys of living, you could also say that it says a lot about religion versus the desire to live and so on. However it goes nowhere and her story could have been covered in a matter of minutes just so we could get the first love moment to provide the opposite side of her father's story.

The story of the father, the politician, is the one that is the most interesting and engaging. The idea that he is part of the government vote on whether or not to keep the life support machines on is the highlight of the film, made even more appealing by the fact that he is going against the leadership of the party.

There are no reveals about which way this vote would be and I wonder if this would have provided more drama for the audience particularly when he seems to be voting in favour of his daughter's wishes although she thinks he may be voting with the party. Yet none of this is really made clear and I felt a lot of confusion and uncertainty about what was really happening. This effectively flattened out one of the most interesting threads of the film and yet it is the main reason that it kept me there.

The story of the girl in the coma is a very strange one and was far too religious and bizarre for me to connect with. It seemed a little at odds with the stories of rest of the film. Isabelle Huppert's dream of performing Lady Macbeth was incredibly strange as was the entire story of the son. You could follow it well enough it just seemed very bizarre and rather "out there". There was never any sense of a point or conclusion to it although the point could well have been to show that the mother will just continue no matter what.

The story of the drug addict and the doctor was another one that captured a spark of imagination and one that I wanted to see more from. It does start off being a little slow but comes to the fore later with the scenes of her bedridden as the doctor watches over her. These scenes provide some nice moments between the characters, particularly in their dialogue.

Come the conclusion, with no real effort made to invest me in the core storyline of the girl in the coma, it all went past rather flatly. The pieces I waited for were the reconciliation between father and daughter, which itself wasn't handled in the best of ways, and the growing relationship between the doctor and drug addict, a thread which turned out to be the most engaging emotionally.

At the end of the film at the Glasgow Film Festival screening the audience were shuffling in their seats quite early in the film and were very quick to leave. I think that was rather telling.

The film could have been heavily trimmed down and there were a number of times I had considered just up and leaving. Losing a few threads and concentrating more on the positive ones could have made this a much more enjoyable experience.

There are a couple of stories in here that do get rather dramatic and interesting but it doesn't quite live up to the promise of the blurb. Perhaps if I had known what the story was about I would have been more invested. As it was I could easily have left a number of times during the film and I could easily have ignored entire story threads.

The film has some good things to say though and interesting points of view. I learned a tiny amount about Italian politics and the film made me think about the value of life and the value of my own to others around me. It presents some interesting questions vaguely and then leaves you to it without further investigation.

Personally though if you aren't Italian and don't know the true story behind the true story, I would be tempted to avoid the film. Of course if you like the type of film that leaves you without really trying to explain itself, perhaps a little confused and unsatisfied, this could well be for you.

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The review sounds more positive than the rating would suggest.

I enjoyed reading your review even if I don't entirely agree with it: I found the politician's segment a little dull, especially during the scenes with the psychiatrist and the political satire seemed out of place in such a humane film.

I had a different take on Huppert's storyline, which was actually one of my favourite parts of the film: to me her character represents those people who turn to faith only when they need it, without really believing. This is hinted at in her first conversation with the priest and also when she asks the nuns to pray louder, as if her cries for help were more convincing. While officially retired, she is actually taking on another role: that of the innocent, pious woman who forces herself to give up her career and her family in order to be pure and deserving of a miracle in the eyes of God, possibly because she feels that her daughter's condition is related to something she did in the past. The Lady Macbeth scene combines both of these concepts: she is still acting and feels guilty. The film doesn't openly condemn her character because her actions are clearly motivated by grief and a true love for her daughter, but her religiosity is mostly just on the surface, as opposed to the character of Maria.

I completely agree with you on the drug addict's storyline: it was my favourite segment and Maya Sansa was excellent.

I didn't have the impression that the film was about the real-life case of Eluana Englaro (it remains in the background for the most part), but rather it was about hope and love. As the character of Maria says at the end of the film, love changes the way you look at life and when you keep those words in mind, it's easy to read the entire film and understand how the characters are influenced by it.



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