Baaria is the acclaimed 2009 theatrical effort from renowned filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso). Baaria (otherwise known as Bagheria) is a small Sicilian town which is both the setting of the film as well as one of the main subjects of the storyline. Filmmaker Tornatore was born in Baaria and dreamed of one day approaching the idea of community within one of his feature films in such a way as to address the feelings evoked from small time settings. This semi-autobiographical and certainly compassionate epic visits memory lane for Tornatore and brings viewers into his unique vision of a lively community growing, changing, and learning through moments of love, family, struggle, and ultimately through the power of hope.
The central character is Peppino Torrenuova (Francesco Scianna), whom audiences become acquainted with through years of childhood, adulthood, and even old age (with the youthful Peppino performed by the young child actors Giovanni Gambino and Davide Viviani). This is a character full of vibrancy and ambition who faces a changing environment with a passion for politics that paves the way for a great many years of life. Peppino falls in love with the beautiful Mannina (Margareth Made), who was also someone who grew up in Baaria. Their relationship faces many high points (the first dance, their eloping, and the birth of children) while also facing struggles as Peppino faces difficulties in finding any work while wanting to support his own political goals which sadly lead him away from the family for great lengths of time.
The story that unfolds in Baaria focuses intently on these characters relationships and paints a portrait of changing times, politics, ideals, and even of the small town. Yet perhaps the biggest goal of the film is to give a simple "slice of life" view of moments in time and how the passage of time can affect an individual's life. This element is quite important to the narrative and is successfully established through some fantasy styled scenes towards the end of the film which all fit into place beautifully with an incredibly powerful scene at the end that suggests life is constantly challenging but with beauty, meaning, and hope it is possible to find a deeper understanding of ourselves through our own reflections of life.
Tornatore has crafted an ambitious film that is unquestionably epic in scope. Building upon a foundation of personal experiences and knowledge of cinematic qualities such as love, friendship, hardships, and growth is a screenplay that covers a wide range of storytelling models with a delicate approach to characterization amidst the enveloping landscape of Baaria. The entire film is, in essence, a reflection upon the past. It works as both a story that appreciates the rich complexities of life and as something that simply aims to bring audiences a view of a course taken in life itself.
Baaria is filled to the brim with great performances from actors in early large roles and with famed actors sharing their talents for supporting characters in a unique and also fascinating way. The cinematography by Enrico Lucidi is exquisite. It's such a lush looking film visually and Tornatore has brought forth an incredible vision of this Sicilian town by working with Lucidi. Film editing by Massimo Quaglia may be one of the only disappointing elements as certain cuts seem a bit too brief and occasionally to the detriment of the storytelling. Music is by the great Ennio Morricone, which is no real surprise considering the very collaborative nature of Tornatore and Morricone working together. Morricone has once again delivered a great score in collaborating with his vibrant filmmaker friend, and has crafted some stirring themes that are emotionally poetic and grand in structure.
Baaria might be difficult to try to explain to new audiences without referring to the fact that its biggest aim is to demonstrate a flow of time and how an individual can be affected by time. The story unravels in many directions at once and things can sometimes seem less focused with concerns over a specific aspect of storytelling than with the big picture of portraying a life. While the film may not manage to be in the exact same league as the classic Cinema Paradiso it still manages to be emotionally engaging and incredibly well made from beginning to end and fans of Giuseppe Tornatore will certainly want to visit Baaria to uncover the magic it holds.
Baaria is presented on Blu-ray disc with a 1:78:1 framed 1080p transfer. This is unfortunate considering the fact that the original aspect ratio was 2.35:1 (a massive difference from the scope presented on this release). This will certainly come as a major disappointment to fans of Tornatore who understand how important the cinematography is in relation to seeing the full vision of the filmmaker. The image quality also has poor black levels which can impact certain scenes in a decidedly uneven manner (especially for night sequences). Otherwise, colors are fairly strong and the overall image is both clean and smooth in its presentation.
The included audio option for Baaria is a 5.1 surround sound DTS-HD Master Audio Italian track that preserves the original language. English subtitles are provided. The audio was clean and with dialogue that is easy to understand and follow. A high number of scenes have strong directional sound effects that are used well throughout the film. While bass doesn't have quite the strong presence one might initially expect the film does have a sharp, pleasing, and successful sound environment that adds much to the experience.
All of the included extras for Baaria are presented in 480i Standard Definition with LPCM stereo and with English subtitles.
The most prominent extra is a Director's Audio Commentary (with English subtitles) that provides some insights into Tornatore's vision for the film along with relevant information in understanding the actual process undertaken in crafting Baaria. Fans of the filmmaker might consider this essential listening as the writer/director is easy to listen to and has an obvious passion for his craft that is entertaining and delightful.
Behind the Scenes (29:34) is a backstage look at the making of the film. While there is some footage of filming Baaria the majority of the feature is concerned with showcasing interviews with Tornatore and various actors who worked on the production. It isn't the most informative extra as far as actually demonstrating the creative process but those interview segments do offer viewers some insightful comments nonetheless.
Special Event (14:17) is an inside look at the premiere event at the Venice Film Festival and it showcases a Question & Answer session with the director and lead actors answering questions regarding working on the film. This piece also highlights an interview with Ennio Morricone that is absolutely worthwhile for those who appreciate his scores.
A Conversation with Giuseppe Tornatore by Mario Sesti (25:51) is an interview with the director in which he discusses the importance of sound design and editing that should fascinate those curious about his approach to these aspects of filmmaking.
Deleted Scenes (1:48) offers a few brief scenes that were ultimately cut from the film.
Photo (3:21) and Poster (:50) Galleries present images relevant to Baaria.
The Theatrical Trailer (2:00) is the last extra included on this release.
Baaria displays director Giuseppe Tornatore crafting an extremely large canvas of his ideas and thoughts on the town he was born in and on the importance of recognizing the time in life. The script is well detailed, the direction confident, and the score sublime. Fans of the filmmaker will want to experience this unique and memorable vision. Alas, Image's Blu-ray releases features a transfer in the incorrect aspect ratio and that will surely be too difficult to ignore for some viewers. Recommended.