I SAW YOU
from previous page in Lima. The Japanese connection to Peru is an odd one, because Peru’s best-known president, Alberto Fujimori, fled to his parents’ homeland in 2000, when facing charges for massive corruption and human-rights abuses. (He finally ended up in prison and has created a small dynasty in the impoverished nation.)
Here, the fictional president is supposed to attend a big dinner party at the palatial home of his vice president (J. Eddie Martinez). The latter’s not the only one disappointed when the boss fails to show up. Also in attendance will be Japanese industrialist Katsumi Hosokawa (The Last Samurai’s Ken Watanabe), who might build a factory there, but is really just flying in to enjoy a private concert by his idol, the aforementioned diva. Having brought his translator (Mozart in the Jungle’s Ryo Kase) allows all the participants to speak their own languages, as well as ours.
This is quite a change of pace for director Paul Weitz, who helped make Mozart and was previously best known for the already contrasting one-two punch of American Pie and About a Boy. Weitz and screenwriter Anthony Weintraub do a number of difficult things well, especially when it comes to sympathetically individuating the revolutionaries, led by bearded Comandante Benjamin (Tenoch Huerta, likewise of Mozart), who show up uninvited. They start with some fireworks, but also become opera buffs, of a sort.
The film is more slapdash with the resulting hostages and their sometimes preposterous relationships over the vaguely defined passage of time. (The real event lasted four months.) We only really get to know the French ambassador (Christopher Lambert) and a few others, plus the Swiss gobetween (Sebastian Koch, from The Lives of Others) who helps negotiate terms in the ensuing standoff.
The pace is a bit sluggish, and the fact that Moore clearly isn’t really singing throws a moist towelette on the message: that direct expressions of humanity can indeed soothe the savage breast. Still, Bel Canto builds to an emotional finish that, if not quite La Traviata, certainly connects with the bizarre soap opera that politics have become in this century.