The “dormant beauty” of the title is Eluane Englaro, a young Italian woman who has been in a coma for the last 17 years. The courts have finally granted her parents the right to take her off life support. The year is 2008 and the circumstances are factual. The population and the press have become polarized into extreme and fanatical positions. It has become a media circus with the Vatican and Prime Minister Berlusconi opposing the court decision. Parliament has been convened to vote on passing a law for or against. There are parallels with the Terry Sciavo case in 2005 in the United States which also reached a fever pitch before it was settled.
The entire film takes place in the last six days in the life of Eluane Englaro. Into this compressed time frame are three parallel but unrelated stories which play out against this backdrop. The moral and ethical ideologies are the animating force which links the three stories. The emotional attachment to their positions often seem farcical and yet all of these characters allow themselves to be held hostage by them to their detriment.
There is the senator Uliano Beffardi, played by the brilliant Toni Servillo, who brings much gravitas to his role. He is torn between his ethical and personal reasons which support the right to die and that of his party and his daughter, Maria, (Alba Rohrwacher) who is one of the more ardent supporters of Eluane’s right to life. She and hundreds of others have been protesting and are now resigned to staging a vigil until she breathes her last breath. At the vigil Maria has a chance encounter with an enigmatic young man, Roberto, who has protective custody over his volatile brother who has violent opinions against the right-to-life crowd. They strike up a sudden and unlikely relationship which causes big problems between the brothers and between the lovers.
The character played by Isabelle Huppert, simply referred to as la Divina Madre, is another extremist. She has given up her career as a famous screen actress, her role as mother and wife, and devoted all of her attention to caring and praying for her daughter who also lies in a coma. She has abandoned her husband and son, who both need and love her.
Piergiorgio Bellocchio, the director’s son, plays a doctor who encounters a suicidal drug addicted young woman(Maya Sansa) in a parking lot outside the hospital where he works. He decides to make her salvation his personal mission against her will.
With all of these personal dramas unfolding in these final six days, when the end finally comes for Eluane, it is something of an anticlimax. I suppose the best way to see this film is as a set of short stories which are reflections of Italian life and politics. It is beautifully shot by Daniele Ciprí on locations in and around Rome and there are very good performances by all of the actors. So even if it is a bit muddled it has plenty to recommend it.
Review by Belle McIntyre