Friday, September 12, 2014

TIFF 2014: Leopardi

Leopardi: Il giovane favoloso (Italy, 2014) directed by Marco Martone, 137 minutes, Isabel Bader Theater, 8p

Count Giacomo Leopardi, the poet and essayist born in 1798, is perhaps not as widely known as Dante but surely has written some of the most beautiful poetry in Italian that the world has seen. 

We lived ... And as a phantom from a dream of terror
Wanders into the day,
And draws across the speechless souls of children
A memory and a fear,
We, as we linger here,
Are haunted still by life: but fears of children
Haunt us not now. What were we?
What was that bitter point in time
That bore the name of life? 
from Chorus of the Dead 

Leopardi (Elio Germano), an aristocrat, was surrounded by a loving but constricting family. Seriously ill all of his life, he eventually became a hunchback and was frequently debilitated by his fragile health. Educated by his father and through the immense library that his father built in their home, Leopardi eventually had to flee his father's suffocating presence.

Brilliant but lonely, Leopardi forges relationships with mentors and scholars such as Pietro Giordani (Valerio Binasco) to escape the confines of Recanati, his small town in northern Italy. It is Giordani and the writer Antonio Ranieri (Michele Riondino) whose friendships largely release Leopardi from his emotional and financial ties to his family.

Germano, as Leopardi, is, by turns, proud, lonely, lustful, fearful - whether surreptitiously watching with longing the peasant girl working on her loom next door, flailing against his autocratic father who prevents his departure from home many times, or slowly withering physically as he ages but gaining in power as a poet and observer of the human condition.

He came to reside in Naples, on the slope of Mount Vesuvius in the latter part of his life, and must have witnessed its many volcanic eruptions before his death in 1837. The final shot of the Vesuvius volcano overflowing is an apt metaphor for the passions that fueled this man.

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