BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Dormant Beauty’ review


Marco Bellocchio has often used real-life dramatic Italian events as the backdrop to his films. Good Morning, Night (2003) dealt with the Aldo Moro kidnapping in the 1970s, whilst Vincere (2009) focused on Mussolini’s lover Ida Dalsa. Dormant Beauty (Bella Addormentata, 2012) revolves around the story of Eluana Englaro, a young woman who lived in a vegetative state for 17 years before her death in 2009. Her death was a media sensation and provoked a nationwide and political debate on the question of euthanasia. The film is a collection of different stories, each connected to Eluana’s predicament.

We’re initially presented with right-wing senator Uliano Beffardi (Toni Servillo), who helped his suffering wife end her own life, and his religious anti-euthanasia daughter, Maria (Alba Rohrwacher). She and dad don’t get on and their views on Eluana create further distance. She is on her way to protest against Eluana’s death and he is on his way to Rome to vote on the euthanasia law in parliament.

On the other side of the euthanasia fence is pro-choice Roberto (Michele Riondino), who has his mad-as-a-hatter brother in tow. Roberto and Maria meet en route to Udine, where Eluana spends her last days, and it’s love at first sight. The Romeo and Juliet of euthanasia, they are ill-starred lovers from the start. Then there is Isabelle Huppert, playing the actress mother of a real sleeping beauty. She has forsaken her husband and son in order to care for her flaxen-haired comatose daughter. Surrounded by nuns, she seeks God’s intervention to save her child.

Meanwhile, in the Udine hospital, the medical staff take bets on how long Eluana will last and this is perhaps the most believable episode in Dormant Beauty’s entirety. Into the hospital in search for Methadone comes the sexiest suicidal junkie ever, Rossa (Maya Sansa), who gets to keep her black push-up bra and matching panties under her hospital gown and lucks out by being saved by dishy doctor Pallido (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio).

The most entertaining moments of Bellocchio’s latest are those of parliamentary psychiatrist (Roberto Herlitzker) dosing out pearls of wisdom and pills to discontented politicians. Alas, there are too many scenes of men dashing into rooms just in the nick of time and too many ridiculous storylines for this fairytale to work. Bearing in mind the dramatic nature of the real life-and-death story at Dormant Beauty’s core, this is an unacceptable and irresponsible piece of filmmaking for all of its good intentions.

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Jo-Ann Titmarsh