Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna


I have written elsewhere, probably far too often, that I cannot recall a good movie in which someone has returned from the dead. In this film, two main characters return from the dead, and they were both in love with the same woman. That one woman could have this happen to both of her lovers seems to stretch my credulity to the breaking point. Of course this did not break the Guinness record for the most resurrections in one story. The New Testament also has two. But it should be noted that Jesus and Lazarus were not dating the same chick.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is based on a book which is kind of a folksy allegory for European behavior in the WW2 era. It's filled with lusty villagers, folk costumes, war-orphaned children, paint-deprived buildings, colorful village idiots, stubbornly nationalistic geezers, and other literary stock footage. The specific historical events involve a little known corner of WW2, in which the Italians were getting trounced by the Greeks on the Albanian/Greek border until Mussolini's embarrassed Big Brother sent German reinforcements to turn the tide. The next step for the Axis was the occupation of Greece, an arrangement in which the Germans and Italians ostensibly carved up responsibility by area, but within which the Germans really kept control by maintaining "advisors" in the Greek areas theoretically under Italian hegemony. When the Italians finally surrendered to the allies, they had to turn over all their share of the occupied Greek territories to the Germans, and the transition was not smooth, to say the least. The Germans sometimes treated their former allies even worse than they treated the defeated populations. In many cases, the Germans simply rounded up the Italians and shot them. 

I'm not sure what the focus of the book had been, but the film is primarily a multi-cultural love story set inside a parallel geopolitical situation. The historical macrocosm involves the changing attitudes of the three nationalities toward one other. The Greeks are at first contemptuous of the Italians because Greek heroes who defeated the Italians in the border war were forced to go home and surrender to the men that they had just defeated! Eventually, both the Greeks and the Italians realize that it is the Germans who represent the real danger to humanity. The final dilemma for the Italians is whether they should surrender their arms to the Germans when they leave, or give them instead to the Greek resistance. In real life, this was a complex decision - think about it. One day the Italians were fighting with the Germans against the Greeks. Virtually overnight they were contemplating changing sides. Several Italian divisions actually did change sides and aided the resistance with their lives as well as their weapons.

The shifting attitude of the Greeks toward the Italian occupiers is reflected in a microcosm of personal stories. Penelope Cruz plays a Greek girl who first despises, then gradually falls for the fun loving Italian officer (Nicolas Cage) billeted in her house. Christian Bale plays the Greek resistance fighter who first despises the Italian occupiers, then asks for their aid. On a personal level, the Greek first hates the Italian for stealing his girlfriend, but eventually saves his life. 


Penelope Cruz barely exposes a nipple in two different set-ups (same love scene with Cage)

Several women-for-hire appear topless during a drunken frolic on the beach

  • Cage, Cruz and Bale are all miscast. Bale is a major talent  and he also had the most richly written character, so he did fine. The others were not so lucky. Poor Cage was trapped into an acting choice he should never have made. He can be outstanding when he gets the right role, but that Chico Marx Italian accent was just a bad decision. As for the casting of Penelope Cruz as a Greek doctor, well, it ranks right up there with the legendary casting of Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.
  • There was no need for the silly and inconsistent accents. No law says that foreigners in English-language movies have to speak to each other in English with a foreign accent. For heaven's sake, just let them speak English, and we can imagine they are speaking another language. Or, if you want to be authentic, hire Italians to play Italians, and have them speak Italian to each other.
  • John Hurt is a good actor, and he created an interesting character, but his dialogue was about equivalent to that of Polonius in Hamlet. I was getting tired of his constant spouting of truisms as if they represented the combined wisdom of Steven Hawking and Siddhartha.
  • The plot is your basic third-rate soap opera melodrama. (Two resurrection. 'Nuff said.)
  • In the time compression used in the film, Cage seems to recover from his "fatal" wounds in about a day or two. In reality, the severity of the wounds would have required months to heal, all while he was being hidden in a too-obvious place with Nazis hovering everywhere.


  • Movie looks great. It was assembled by the director of Shakespeare in Love, and photographed beautifully in sunny Greece.
  • Good source material. It was considered an excellent book, and it treats themes of great importance in the 20th century.

The English Patient set, those who love a deeply felt romantic melodrama cut against a backdrop of important historical events, will probably like this film as well. Use The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love as your barometers. If you like one of those, this is a good bet. If you like both of those, you'll almost certainly like this.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • full-length commentary by John Madden (No, he doesn't use x's and o's - it's the director, not the football guy)

  • a music video of "Pelagia's Theme"

Tuna's Thoughts

I think I enjoyed the film a little more than Scoopy did, probably because I though Cruz convincing as a bright young woman who found herself falling in love with someone who was her enemy. I also liked the Cage character, who was more of a lover than a soldier, and a lover of music. I was unfamiliar with this corner of WWII, so the historical backdrop was interesting as well.

To me, Athens in the sun is shining alabaster, and muted green, and on an overcast day, the entire city is a dull grey. The island used for this film, which is the actual scene of the events in WWII, is far greener than Athens, and with bluer seas, but is still very bright, which makes for a lack of contrast and deep colors. The plot was obvious, and it took a while to get going. A little more cutting might have improved it, and the slaughter by the Germans didn't have the impact it should have because it was just an episode in what is mostly a love story. Several scenes will stick with me. Near the beginning, Cage and his brigade march into town and demand the surrender. The mayor sends out a note in Greek, which Cage is asked to translate. He clears his throat, and announces in a loud voice, "Fuck Off." While nowhere near the film Shakespeare in Love is, I enjoyed it more than the English Patient, and it is one I will watch again. C+.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 3/4, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.8/10
  • With their dollars ... it cost $57 million to make, grossed only $25 million in the USA. It did better in the director's native UK, where it grossed nine million pounds. (Given the currency and population differences, that's about the same level of success as a $60 million movie in the USA)
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Well-crafted romantic melodrama, but not much depth, with weak acting from some leads. I think I might have overlooked the other weaknesses if the film had better lead actors, but Cage and Cruz were in way over their heads.

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