Thursday, 26 October 2006

Tiger and the Snow, The (2005)

Benigni on the road to Baghdad

Like auteur directors who frequently make the same movie over and over again (Hitchcock, Orson Welles, David Lynch, Wong Kar Wai, Godard), there are actors who frequently play the same character over and over again (Jack Nicholson, Woody Allen, Christopher Lambert, Christopher Walken). Watching The Tiger and the Snow, you could easily come to the conclusion that Roberto Benigni is that rare soul who bridges both worlds. This movie is a retread of familiar themes and motifs best brought together in La Dolce Vita: the mixture of absurd humour in the tragedy brought on by war; the funnyman routine of Benigni, who refuses to be intimidated by setbacks, disasters, and generally bad situations; and his exuberant ways to court women (invariably played by his real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi).

This time round, the war is in Iraq and Benigni is Attilio, an eccentric and absent minded improvisatory poet and university literature lecturer who has the same surreal dream every night – that of getting married to Vittoria (Braschi), who resembles a darker-haired Meryl Streep from certain angles. He persistently woos her in the waking hours, almost to the point of stalking her. Luckily Benigni is hilarious and over-the-top in his protestations of love that Braschi can only act annoyed, feel flattered, and run over to the washroom to cry at the insanity of the situation. You’ll feel like doing so as well, since Benigni’s character here is scarcely different from the clownish role he played in La Dolce Vita.

The key difference is the addition of Jean Reno, who plays Fuad, an Iraqi poet in exile in Italy. Just on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, Fuad returns to his homeland with his publisher Vittoria in tow. Closely stalked by Attilio, who uses his outrageous charm to get into the war-torn, heavily bombarded and roadblocked country to locate and save his friends from a certain doom.

While the film is pretty easy to sit through, it wasn’t too difficult to feel that you’ve watched some of Benigni’s antics in a previous film, or that the bare bones of the story served as a scaffolding to tie various Benigni sketches of varying quality together into a more-or-less conventional narrative. While the movie concentrated on Benigni, one had, at times, the desire to watch more of Jean Reno’s interesting and wiser character on screen. Ultimately though, this film fails to express any effective denunciation of the invasion of Iraq despite the apparently intention of the director.

The saving grace is simply that Roberto Benigni still hasn’t lost the power to charm audiences and to script truly magical moments on camera. It’s a pity the seduction wasn’t as complete as what he achieved previously. I consider The Tiger and the Snow to be far better than Pinocchio, but a lesser film than La Dolce Vita.

First published at incinemas on 2 November 2006

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