"One hundred rinses cannot wash away these kinds of stains," warns Duilio, eighteenth-century patriarch of the Benedetti ("the blessed") clan in the rolling hills of Tuscany. He's a poor farmer speaking to his fellow villagers in the town square, where a French lieutenant named Jean will be executed at dawn unless a chest full of gold coins that was stolen from the lieutenant's command is returned overnight.
So begins Fiorile, the latest release from the Tavianis, the Italian brother team responsible for Padre Padrone and the exquisite Night of the Shooting Stars. The film, which played the Miami Film Festival in February, is a tragic-romantic fable spanning several generations. While all the Taviani trademarks -- spectacular panoramas of lush Italian countryside, solid acting, and an episodic, complex story line -- are present and accounted for, the film as a whole is confusing and strangely unmoving.
Unbeknownst to Duilio, his own son Corrado stole the gold that afternoon while the younger Benedetti's sister Elisabetta was making love to the French soldier in a nearby meadow. When Duilio finds out that his son committed the robbery and that his daughter surrendered her maidenhood to the lieutenant, the patriarch's decision not to return the treasure results in Jean's death. Elisabetta, pregnant with Jean's baby, swears revenge on the thief, unaware of her family's complicity in the crime. She dies during childbirth, the first victim of a curse that will dog the Benedetti family for two centuries, causing fellow villagers to mockingly refer to them as the Maledettis ("the cursed").
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Perhaps the above-mentioned confusion can be traced to the fact that the actors who play Corrado, Elisabetta, and Jean (Claudio Bigagli, Galatea Ranzi, and Michael Vartan, respectively) also play those characters' descendants later in the film. None of them is drawn vividly enough to make much of an impression, nor do the performances lift them out of the realm of the ordinary. In a movie that weaves several characters and their cinematic offspring throughout a long narrative, character development is critical. You have to make a lasting impression in a short amount of screen time. Neither the actors nor the filmmakers were able to accomplish that task this time around.
Even second-tier Taviani is superior to the best efforts of most filmmakers, and Fiorile certainly has its share of quality moments. The film is no Jean de Florette, but it's no Falcon Crest, either.