Illuminata [1998]

John Turturro's homage to the world of theatrical make-believe may fall short of the shining beacons of this Shakespearean genre--Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander and Jean Renoir's The Golden Coach, for two--but his Illuminata casts considerable sweetness and light of its own. Mostly set in a teeming warren of private and performance spaces within a turn-of-the-century theater, the film follows the fluctuating fortunes of playwright Tuccio (Turturro), his lover-muse-leading lady (Katherine Borowitz, Turturro's offscreen wife), and their colorful company: Rufus Sewell and Georgina Cates, youthful, less wise projections of playwright and muse; Ben Gazzara as a grizzled old thespian forgetful of the line between reality and performance; Bill Irwin as the naive bit player who catches the hungry eye of Christopher Walken's deliciously over-the-top, acid-tongued critic; Susan Sarandon as a calculatingly seductive diva fighting her age; and commedia dell'arte types Aida Turturro and Leo Bassi. Tuccio's dying to get his play on the boards, but as theater owners Beverly D'Angelo (she of the endearing overbite) and Donal McCann (late star of Irish cinema, and of John Huston's The Dead) reasonably point out, his delicate fantasy about love and illusion lacks an ending. Zigzagging through Midsummer Night's Dream misunderstandings and misalliances, slipping seamlessly from mundane into artifice and back again, Illuminata wends its way toward Tuccio's bittersweet denouement. In Mac, his directorial debut, Turturro paid heartfelt tribute to his own blue-collar dad; this sophomore effort (cowritten with friend and fellow director Brandon Cole) glows with warm affection for audiences, actors, and those who dream their plays. --Kathleen Murphy

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