Bella Addormentata: To let live or to let die
Famed Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio’s Bella Addormentata (Dormant Beauty) is based on real events that grabbed the attention of Italian society at large back in 2009 when Bep-pe Englaro decided to take his daughter Eluana, comatose for seventeen years due to a car wreck, off mechanical life support. The one particularity that set this case aside from others it that the father demanded that euthanasia be applied legally and out in the open, as opposed to secretly in private clinics or even hospitals. As was to be expected, a phenomenon was created around it: pro-life activists attacked the position of the Englaro family and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was also against allowing the girl to die.
Bella Addormentata revolves around a few stories that share similarities, but also display different sides of the same issue. One of the stories concerns a famous actress, “the Divine Mother” (Isabelle Huppert), who has a daughter in a coma, Rosa. She has devoted her life to taking care of her to the point of almost totally neglecting her own son. She’s very religious, therefore against letting Eluana die. She can’t even contemplate the fact that her own daughter could ever face the same fate.
Then there’s Maria (Alba Rohrwacher), a religious young teenager who protests against euthanasia, but happens to fall in love with Roberto (Michele Riondino) a young activist man in favour of it who has a brother with mental problems.
Moreover, there’s Dr. Pallido (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) who feels drawn to a beautiful woman who’s admitted to the hospital, a drug addict with suicidal tendencies (Maya Sansa). Not surprisingly, the addict just wants to end her life whereas Dr. Pallido wants to convince that life is not to be tossed away just like that.
Finally, there’s Uliano Beffardi (Tony Servillo), an honest senator elected for Berlusconi’s party who’s asked to vote for a law against euthanasia which would forbid Eluana Englaro being taken off life support. The thing is Uliano is in favour of euthanasia — and not without a reason.
Marco Bellocchio deftly intertwines these stories in a smart and complex fashion, and in so doing he provides a full panorama with all its nuances on a topic as controversial as euthanasia is. However, expect no propaganda, since one of the film’s major assets is how it portrays each point of view without casting a judgment on it. For the most part, it deals with emotions and feelings of the parties involved. It shows everybody has their reasons.
Accordingly, viewers are asked to make up their own minds and find their own answers to the many queries the film poses. This is not to say that there’s no criticism, because the film does indeed criticize politicians for taking advantage of hot issues like this one for their own personal benefit. Or how fanatics can only make matters worse, since they don’t really care about anyone or anything other than their own rigid ideas. People don’t matter to them.
Bella Addormentata is a beautifully shot film, dark and moody, with some great scenes filled with infectious pathos alongside a very inspired musical score that gives the film a transcendental, yet not solemn, tone. Expect small dramatic pieces that are as unexpected as they are compelling (the arrival of the suicidal woman to the hospital, or when the shrink talks about his patients from the Senate).
Bellocchio’s film is a meditation and an exploration rather than a statement on how things should be. And that’s precisely the best thing about it. Incidentally, the Film Commission of Friuli Venezia Giula was shut down allegedly for budget reasons; when, in fact, it was done as a way to block the film from receiving financial aid.
As it’s obvious, the film got made anyway. All the more reasons to see such a remarkable feature.