Captain Corelli's Mandolin [2001]

With this lavish follow-up to Shakespeare in Love, director John Madden proves himself a worthy craftsman of literary films, and while Captain Corelli's Mandolin may frustrate admirers of Louis de Bernières's densely detailed novel, it's a tastefully old-fashioned adaptation, preserving the novel's flavor while focusing on its love story set against the turbulence of World War II. Set on the Greek island of Cephallonia, the drama begins in 1940 with occupation by Italian troops, awkwardly allied with the Nazis and preferring hedonistic friendliness over military intimidation. That attitude is most generously embodied by Captain Corelli (Nicolas Cage), who is instantly drawn to the Greek beauty Pelagia (Penélope Cruz) despite her engagement to Mandras (Christian Bale), a resistance fighter whose absence leaves Pelagia needy for affection. Mandras's eventual return--and the inevitable attack by German bombers and ground troops--threaten to stain this Greek-Italian romance with deeply tragic bloodshed. Accompanied by pensive serenades from the captain's cherished mandolin, the film charts the unlikely attraction of Corelli and Pelagia, whose wizened physician father (splendidly played by John Hurt) fears for the worst. Their love is uneasy (and Cage's miscasting doesn't help), but the island's beguiling atmosphere is as seductive to them as it is to the viewer, thus making the outbreak of violence--and a climactic earthquake--jarringly traumatic. Emphasizing nobility in war and the many definitions of love, the story's wartime context intensifies the film's admirable depth of emotion. Faults will be found by anyone who's looking for them, but Captain Corelli's Mandolin remains a sensuous, richly layered film that die-hard romantics will find hard to resist. --Jeff Shannon

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