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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Embalmer
Embalmer
First Run Features // Unrated // May 18, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Robert Spuhler | posted May 31, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Director/screenwriter Matteo Garrone's The Embalmer lies somewhere in between a character portrait and a suspenseful love triangle. When it focuses on the former, the film is quite successful thanks to a fantastic performance by Ernesto Mahieux as the lonely, tortured Peppino. But when it veers towards the latter, it runs into the double whammy of unsympathetic characters and wooden performances, rendering the entire third act meaningless and ending the film with a deflated feeling.

Mahieux is magnificent as Peppino, a taxidermist who leads a double life pulling nighttime jobs for the mafia involving corpses. His macabre profession, along with his extremely short stature, has led him to a life as an outcast. He meets Valerio (Valerio Foglias Manzillo), a hunky waiter, and immediately falls for his (wooden) charms. But when Valerio meets a woman (Elisabetta Rocchetti) the trio becomes locked in a love triangle that will send their lives spiraling out of control. Supposedly.

There's an odd sympathy that sets in for Peppino as early as the opening scene, not unlike the first introduction of the Phantom in the musical version of Phantom of the Opera. It is that sympathy, that almost-pity, which gives Mahieux enough room to give Peppino so much life. When an actor is given the leeway in a script to make a monster seem misunderstood, there is a lot of power to create a compelling character.

But whenever his co-stars speak or are given even the simplest tasks by the script, the film begins to drag. Rocchetti comes off as conniving and manipulative even in the softest, most earnest scenes, making her the film's de facto bad "guy." Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure that "Valerio Foglias Manzillo" is Italian for "Keanu Reeves."

So, the film then ends up giving us two sides to root for: The mobbed up, sympathetic-but-still-creepy Peppino or the duo of Wooden Beauty and the Beast. Because of the choice, the third act cannot end with a satisfied audience.

The DVD

Video:

This is a film that is only going to appeal to film lovers. Film lovers have been quick to adopt DVD as their format of choice. And DVD fans have overwhelmingly let it be known that they do not want mandatory subtitles. Yet here again is a foreign film with the titles burned into the picture.

That's not the only problem with the non-anamorphic picture. It is oppressively dark, beyond just setting the mood to the point where there are scenes that are tough to make out. There is grain everywhere. When the camera moves, there is a slight ghost image trailing. Overall, just a poor transfer.

Sound:

The audio is done on a regular 2.0 track. Dialogue is quiet at times, but not overly so – and besides, if you can't make out the Italian, you can always read the burnt-in subtitles.

Extras:

Extras on this disc are slim; there is a short excerpt of an article on the film, short bios of Garrone and Mahieux, a trailer that looked like it was cobbled together on a trail version of AvidExpress, and trailers for Seaside, Venus Boyz, Merci Pour Le Chocolat, Secret Things and The Fluffer.

Final Thoughts:

The Embalmer is an interesting twist on sexuality and love triangles, but falls short of providing the suspense it promises. The First Run Films DVD does it few favors with an anorexic disc and a poor video transfer.

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