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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.

Ken Eis­ner

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