Saturday, April 23, 2011

Not Just Another Holiday Movie

As a setting for an Easter parade, Seville offers more than bunnies.  “Welcome to the Middle Ages,” one resident quips in the film Angel of Death.  There, age-old traditions saunter forth down byways cloistered with cheek-by-jowl medieval housing—and murders galore. 

One mystery piles on another in this feast for the eyes.  “Have you seen a dead body before?” another resident queries.  Americans hide bodies in readymade closets of all kinds, of course—and think nothing of it.  Apparently, civil sevillanos practically need a task force to deal with theirs.
So, a task force turns up, since this is Easter, and spring miracles keep springing out of nowhere.  As a wily detective, Mira Sorvino achieves miracle number one:  She practices critical thinking when every right-minded relative would be screaming at her:  “Get outta there!”
Sorvino’s talent in no small portion consists of curving her lips as if she’d just tucked away a chocolate rabbit and a dozen peeps.  Her hair glows; her heels click.  When encountering ANOTHER MURDER, she just demonstrates that Hemingway possessed no monopoly on grace under pressure. 
How little Americans know about Spain—with the exception of Hemingway, who wrote Death in the Afternoon, a classic on bullfighting.  The secret to this sport, he confided, lay in coming as close to death as possible, without letting the bull gore the innards.  Happy thought!
This sport, demonstrated in this film by a less than fortunate athlete, a la Hemingway again, grabs the spotlight here.  The gold in the sun glimmers not only on idyllic hills but also on the bullfighter’s shoulders.  He triumphs against the beast, but loses to fascist plotters, keen on revenge.
As in Spain’s Civil War, as Hemingway knew well, too, the citizens of Spain divided among La Pasionaria, Nationalists, and the Republicans, his heroes.  Treachery could be expected because the Catholic Church defended Mary but did not save the Jews from the death camps.
Miracle number two in this movie consists of ninety minutes of abridged Spanish history.  Miracle number three arises for readers of modern literature who know Hemingway front to back of every one of his novels, especially For Whom The Bell Tolls, whose heroine must be named Maria.
Why?  Because Hemingway’s world drenches readers in Catholicism, existentialism, and courage—the kind of courage it takes to face down killers, and saunter away from the medieval Dance with Death.  The telling connection between the two scripts screams imitation, if not icon-envy.
In fact, this film’s script begins where For Whom The Bell Tolls ends.  The key question at the end of Hemingway’s masterpiece remains:  What happens to Robert Jordan’s love interest? Maria spent three days and nights with him—long enough to conceive an avenger?
The world moved beneath Hemingway’s hero, when he discovered that even fascists cannot kill love, no matter their other talents.  But rape remains a kind of execution in this movie—and requires accounting.  The devil may get his due, but God doesn’t look the other way NOW.

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