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La Vela Incantata (Italian Release)

Other // Unrated // November 24, 2007 // Region 2 // PAL
List Price: $18.99 [Buy now and save at Xploitedcinema]

Review by Svet Atanasov | posted February 18, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Film:



Set in the late 1920s Gianfranco Mingozzi's La Vela Incantata a.k.a The Magic Screen (1983) tells the story of two brothers, Angelo (Massimo Ranieri) and Tonino (Paolo Ricci), who struggle to adapt to the changing political landscape of Italy. With the fascist movement spreading throughout the country Angelo and Tonino's film business is in jeopardy. Things become even more complicated when Tonino is introduced to a group of local communists.



Screened during the 1982 Cannes Film Festival The Magic Screen is very much a hybrid between Bertollucci's 1900 and Tornatore's The Star Maker. Following closely the rising separation between politicized and sympathizing with the fascists upper class and the energized and siding with the communists peasants the story paints a believable portrait of the Italian state from the beginning of the century.



A love affair between Angelo and a wealthy woman (Monica Guerritore) brings some unexpected friction between the two brothers. They are positioned against each other in a manner effectively representing the clash of ideas witnessed amongst ordinary Italians at the time. The "justification" of their motives is well done though in the larger scheme of things admittedly predictable.



Where The Magic Screen fails to match the intensity witnessed in Bertollucci's 1900 is the strength and depth of the characters, their ability to transcend emotions the story alone isn't capable of initiating. Partially because of the fact that the rise of the fascists isn't as detailed as it is in 1900 and because Mingozzi remains content with the film's less than controversial message The Magic Screen eventually becomes more effective as a family drama only.



The beat up truck with the film projector Angelo and Tonino move from village to village grant the story with a distinctive nostalgic feel, one that blends well with the film's overall dated look. The enthusiasm the two brothers reveal is melodramatic at times but not out of context -- the rest of their actions are also impulsive, driven by idealism.



Still, the film is neither a period drama nor an attempt at political satirizing. There is a little bit of both here with romance somewhere in between.



The technical presentation is solid and the cinematography in particular very strong. The distinctive look of the villages is well captured by the camera as is the splendid Italian countryside.




How Does the DVD Look?



I spent quite a bit if time investigating precisely what the original aspect ratio of this film is and how it was meant to be seen. In the booklet provided with the DVD it is noted that the film was shot on 16mm negative in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The back cover of this disc tends to agree. Yet, the actual presentation is in 1.66:1 enhanced for widescreen TVs. I believe that 1.33 is indeed the intended aspect ratio and RHV have simply used a secondary print. With this in mind the quality of the presentation is as expected of high-quality. There is a heavy amount of grain, to the point where at times it feels as if the picture breaks into pixels, but from what I understand the "dated look" was intended by Mingozzi. Furthermore, colors are convincing but also at time affected by the hazy look the print promotes. Damage isn't an issue of concern even though a few specks are noticeable here and there. To sum it all up this film has a stylistic look which may or may not be greeted by some with much enthusiasm.



How Does the DVD Sound?



Presented with its original Italian mono track and optional Italian and English subtitles the audio presentation is solid. The sound is clear and dialog very easy to follow. Pop-ups or audio drop-outs are not an issue of concern.



Extras:



Aside from a gallery of stills the only other extra on this disc is a documentary in Italian only titled "La Grande Magia" where archive footage as well as recent interviews and comments by the cast are assembled to address the picture's merits. It is quite unfortunate that the piece isn't subbed in English as there are some quite interesting bits, especially in regard to the history of the film, which would have helped the non-Italian viewer better understand Mingozzi's work.



Final Words:



This is my first exposure to the work of Gianfranco Mingozzi and all things considered I am delighted to own one of his films in an English-friendly form. La Vela Incantata is a charming little story which does not aim high but definitely creates a period environment so many of Tornatore's films successfully popularized in America. Recommended.


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