Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Voyage (1974)

          The final feature directed by venerable Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Sica, The Voyage is little more than a maudlin soap opera with the trappings of an art movie. Starring Richard Burton at his most disinterested and Sophia Loren at her most earnest, the movie is brisk and watchable but almost laughably trite. Why so many talented people combined their efforts to generate something this fundamentally mediocre is a mystery. Still, as romantic tearjerkers go, one could do worse than spending 102 minutes enjoying Burton’s mellifluous baritone and Loren’s legendary physical gifts. Set in turn-of-the-century Sicily, the movie begins with the reading of a will. After their father dies, brothers Cesare Braggi (Burton) and Antonio Braggi (Ian Bannen) are bequeathed control over the family’s considerable fortune. As the older brother, somber Cesare is charged with looking after business—including the arrangement of marriage between Antonio and Adriana de Mauro (Loren), the daughter of a working-class family with social ties to the Braggi clan. The complication is that Adriana and Cesare have been in love with each other for years, though they’ve never made their feelings known. (The reason why the would-be lovers kept their affection secret remains unclear throughout the film, creating a significant plot hole.) Adhering to his father’s wishes, Cesare oversees the marriage, and then suffers in silence—until circumstances introduce tragedy, happiness, and still more tragedy into the lives of the characters.
          Considering De Sica’s reputation for sophisticated social realism, it’s shocking how little material of substance makes its way into The Voyage. There’s some lip service given to class differences, but mostly the picture is preoccupied with Cesare’s operatic martyrdom, Antonio’s simple-minded innocence, and Adriana’s difficulty reconciling cultural expectations with romantic desire. Working in the film’s favor are lush production values and a quick pace, though the film’s brevity is partially enabled by the use of bluntly expositional dialogue. (Full disclosure: I committed the ultimate foreign-film travesty by watching the dubbed English-language version of The Voyage, so the use of language in the original version may be more graceful.) Burton, as always, is interesting to watch even when it’s clear he doesn’t give a shit about his work—his command of language and his natural intensity shine through. As for Loren, perpetually more noteworthy as a screen presence than as an actor, she’s beautiful and endearing, though the apex of her performance borders on camp. Yes, dear readers, Ms. Loren gets to play that old movie-queen song of a noble heroine suffering a disease without unattractive symptoms.

The Voyage: FUNKY

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