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By now I have come to realize that the criterion the Academy follows to recognize the most notable foreign productions each year is in harsh contrast with what film aficionados find worthy of discussion. In fact, recognizing the Best Foreign Language Production with the coveted Oscar statuette has become such a farce that even amongst Academy members this year there were calls for reevaluation of the current status quo. A bit too late perhaps…!!
This year the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Production went to the South African film Tsotsi (2005) directed by Gavin Hood. A bitter drama about a thug whose life turns upside down when he finds a crying baby on the back seat of his stolen BMW Tsotsi competed with four other films: the French production Joyeux Noel a.k.a Merry Christmas; the German production Sophie Scholl; the Palestinian production Paradise Now, and the Italian production La Bestia Nel Cuore a.k.a Don't Tell.
The Italian Oscar entry La Bestia Nel Cuore, subject of this review, follows the story of young Sabina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) as she struggles to put her life in order. As the dormant demons of a terrible event from her past are awaken Sabina decides to contact her brother Daniele (Luigi Lo Cascio), who is a college professor at the University of Virginia, and ask for help. Surprisingly Daniele shares with Sabina a story that opens a much bigger wound the family has been hiding for years.
Cristina Comencini's La Bestia Nel Cuore (based on her own book) is without a doubt a difficult film to endure. Its subject offers plenty of drama which unlike Hollywood produced pictures does not quite come to a happy-ending. Sabina's journey to find piece and solace provides the viewer with that all too familiar lump in the stomach which comes to life each time something terrible happens.
The core of this Italian film is quite similar to what Bernardo Bertolucci's La Luna (1979) attempted to reconstruct-the genesis of a despicable act and the erosion of a family where nothing is what it seems. Unlike La Luna however where everything was easy to put together in La Bestia Nel Cuore most of what the film is all about is only suggested. Here the drama is also introduced through occasional flashbacks unlike Jill Clayburgh's (present) struggles.
The mix of sentimental Italian drama (some critics tagged the film a modern soap-opera)and suggestive narrative, however, did not resonate well with the US critics. Even though La Bestia Nel Cuore won the coveted Golden Lion Award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival (2005) across the Atlantic many concluded that after all there wasn't enough here and the emotional trauma Sabina was attempting to heal lacked substantially.
Well, I could not disagree more with all of the criticism this Italian film was showered with. First of all nothing in La Bestia Nel Cuore was meant to be a "mystery". The "action-reaction" formula is as translucent as they come-the suggestive narrative I pointed above has to do with what Sabina undergoes, how she plans to cope with a past that is affecting the present. This seems to be creating all sorts of problems for male critics (at least this is my feeling) as they see Sabina's reactions as "typical", way too melodramatic!
Second of all La Bestia Nel Cuore is indeed a film about the female psyche, the manner in which women overcome personal traumas. Giovanna Mezzogiorno's character may seem a bit too clichéd to some but it is nevertheless a powerful one. After all I personally do not always need to see an earth-shattering story where the main protagonist is capable of extraordinary deeds. Sometimes I want to meet normal people who ache, suffer, and let their emotions loose…is this too "melodramatic" of a preference??
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (the original aspect ratio of this film is 1.85:1) and enhanced for widescreen TV's La Bestia Nel Cuore has received a good but not perfect treatment. Lions Gate have converted the print from a PAL master properly hence you won't find heavy "ghosting" but have not done a progressive transfer, hence, you will see some very mild "combing". This being said those with regular tubes will hardly notice the "combing" such will be more prevalent on high-end progressive TV's. The rest of the video presentation is somewhat tolerable-contrast is relatively good (I see some notable macro-blocking however), the print is in excellent condition (no specks or damage), color gradation is mostly fine (though blacks are not as saturated and vivid as they appear on my Italian DVD), and edge enhancement is rather acceptable (once again this is a relative statement as on larger progressive sets you will notice quite a bit of it).
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a basic Italian 2.0 sound mix (where as my Italian disc offers a much more elaborate 5.1 mix) the film sounds acceptable as I did not detect any audio issues-no hissing, or drop-outs. Yet, I can not help but think that this is one of those quickly put together jobs where "quality" is somewhat of a forgotten term. With optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Aside from a few trailers there is absolutely nothing to be found here.
I am not impressed by this DVD presentation!! The audio and video treatment this film has received is at the "average" mark! Which is not so flattering given the fact that this is an Oscar-nominated film! I also disagree with the majority of critics who aren't that kind to Cristina Comencini's work. I liked this film, quite a bit!!