Jun 16, 2011

DVD Review: Sea Purple [15]

Dir: Donatella Maiorca
I wonder just how closely Sea Purple (an unwieldy title, explained only in a caption just before the end credits) is inspired by a true story. Certainly its main character seems to be based on a real person, and the central conceit seems to be true, but I would be surprised if some of the peripheral details are true.

The film is set in the mid to late 1800's and is about Angela (Valeria Solarino), whose childhood friend Sara (Isabella Ragonese) returns to their small Island off the Italian coast after a fifteen year absence. Soon after Sara returns, Angela confesses her love for her old friend, who reciprocates. Angela's Father (Ennio Fantastichini) wants her to marry a local boy, but Angela refuses, and tells him she loves Sara. In order to allow her daughter to live how she wants, Angela's Mother (Giselda Volodi) convinces the local priest that there was a mistake when Angela was born, and Angela returns to the village, as her Father's son Angelo.

Sea Purple is a beautiful film. There likely wasn't a great challenge involved in making it look good; the scenery is stunning and frankly so are the cast - to a fault actually, the otherwise excellent Solarino coming a little unstuck in the 'looking like a boy' stakes - but director Donatella Maiorca also deserves credit for finding some striking shots (Angela's Father, rendered as a silhouetted monster, as he beats her) and for exploiting the natural beauty of the film's environments and of her cast quite so effectively. Maiorca also draws strong performances from her leads. Though there is little setup provided by the screenplay for the devotion that Angela and Sara have to one another, Solarino and Ragonese sell the relationship at both an emotional and a physical level. There is also an excellent supporting performance from Giselda Volodi, as Angela's Mother, in limited screentime Volodi gives a rounded portrait of a woman long cowed by her husband, coming out of her shell when her daughter needs her most. Unfortunately the same can't be said for Angela's Father, who is written and played as a cartoon bastard.

The strength of most of the performances and the visually arresting quality of the film allows Sea Purple to hold the attention despite its other problems. The script, as mentioned above, often feels a little thin, and Angela and Sara's relationship in particular could do with a few more conversational scenes to really solidify it. More problematic is the fact that much of what happens after Angela becomes Angelo doesn't feel all that believable  the way that the village only quietly bristles about her marriage to Sara, and that there is little in the way of confrontation for the couple to deal with (actually this is true throughout, despite the amount of time they spend making out in broad daylight in island beauty spots). None of this really seems to fit with what you'd expect in an insular, religious, island community in the 19th century. There is also the problem of Angela's Father, who is basically a caricature of a misogynist (and, in keeping with the film's contemporary resonance about gay marriage and conservative opposition to it, which is largely subtly advanced, he says "remember, I only care about myself". That line may as well be replaced with him waving a sign saying 'contemporary right wing bastard').

The last major issue with the film is its score, which is far too contemporary (electric guitars, really?) and used in a manner best described as instructional, especially in the scenes that have Angela's Father being abusive to his family. For the most part the film doesn't need this coating of aural schmaltz / menace, because Maicora and her actors are doing their jobs effectively and communicating to us exactly how we should be feeling.

Sea Purple may be flawed, but there is a lot going on in it, the contemporary resonance is subtle but strongly felt, the performances are largely strong and the story itself is both different and interesting. It's not entirely satisfying, but it has plenty to recommend it, not least Valeria Solarino and Isabella Ragonese.

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