Bel Canto (15)

Evening Times - - TIMES OUT -

LOVE blos­soms in the swel­ter­ing heat of an un­named South Amer­i­can coun­try dur­ing a blood­spat­tered hostage cri­sis in di­rec­tor Paul Weitz’s slow-burn­ing thriller.

Based on the novel by Ann Patch­ett, Bel Canto punc­tu­ates the stand-off between gun-tot­ing rebels and an un­flinch­ing gov­ern­ment with soar­ing arias per­formed by US so­prano Re­nee Flem­ing, whose im­pec­ca­ble trills are lip-synced by Os­car win­ner Ju­lianne Moore.

These oper­atic in­ter­ludes strike a deep emo­tional chord but the melo­drama en­velop­ing them, adapted for the screen by Weitz and An­thony Wein­traub, is fre­quently off-key and strug­gles to kid­nap our un­di­vided at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially in a pedes­trian mid­dle act that en­gi­neers car­nal de­sire between guer­ril­las and their cap­tives.

Moore catal­y­ses po­lite screen chem­istry with co-star Ken Watan­abe that barely sim­mers and cer­tainly never achieves boil­ing point, weak­en­ing a con­fi­dently staged and tragic fi­nale fit for an opera, al­beit in py­rotech­nic-laden slow mo­tion.

Un­der­writ­ten sub­plots are un­nec­es­sary pad­ding, in­clud­ing one rebel who har­bours a se­cret am­bi­tion to sing opera and ends up hid­ing in a tree when cul­ture-starved com­rades poke fun at his vo­cal ex­er­tions.

In con­trast, Weitz’s pic­ture doesn’t get off the ground.

Ja­panese in­dus­tri­al­ist Kat­sumi Hosokawa (Watan­abe) trav­els to a po­lit­i­cally volatile South Amer­i­can na­tion with trans­la­tor Gen (Ryo Kase) un­der the aus­pices of building a factory to re­vi­talise the ail­ing econ­omy.

Vice pres­i­dent Ruben Ochoa (Ed­die Martinez) hopes to se­cure Hosokawa’s in­vest­ment by host­ing a soiree at his home at­tended by dig­ni­taries in­clud­ing Rus­sian busi­ness­man Fy­o­dorov (Olek Krupa), French am­bas­sador Si­mon Thibault (Christophe­r Lambert) and his wife Edith (Elsa Zyl­ber­stein).

Hosokawa is a huge opera fan, so the evening’s en­ter­tain­ment will be a pri­vate con­cert by Amer­i­can so­prano Rox­anne Coss (Moore) and her pi­anist Christopf (Thor­b­jorn Harr).

Dur­ing the recital, heav­ily armed guer­rilla rebels led by Benjamin (Tenoch Huerta) storm the party.

They de­mand the re­lease of po­lit­i­cal prison­ers in ex­change for the lives of the party guests.

Bel Canto is com­posed in broad, art­ful strokes which un­der­mine the ef­forts of Moore and Watan­abe to con­vince us of their char­ac­ters’ amour fou.

Sup­port­ing char­ac­ters aren’t fleshed out be­yond their na­tion­al­ity and po­lit­i­cal lean­ings.

As the me­an­der­ing nar­ra­tive loses momentum, any res­o­lu­tion is wel­come.

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