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By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 08, 1994


Paolo Taviani;
Vittorio Taviani
Lino Capolicchio;
Constanze Englebrecht;
Michael Vartan;
Galatea Raniz;
Claudio Bigagli;
Giovanni Guidelli
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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If you're in a big rush, perhaps you'd better wait for a calmer day to see "Fiorile." The latest by the Taviani brothers takes its sweet time, but patience is rewarded. A leisurely, lyrical, almost-epic set in timeless Tuscany, "Fiorile" is a fine movie for a spring evening -- its title means "spring," in fact.

In a time of tired, predictable entertainments, "Fiorile" is a real novelty -- you can't guess where this Italian movie is headed from its first few moments, and the Tavianis continue to strew its meandering path with subtle surprises until the satisfying conclusion.

Two sleeping children are traveling with their parents to visit the grandfather they've never seen. As their car enters the graceful Tuscan hills, their father, Luigi Benedetti, begins to recount the family legend, an operatic saga of love, betrayal and cursed gold. As the daydreaming children gaze out the window, the camera lingers behind -- and in the very same landscape, the children's legendary ancestors appear.

Incidentally injured in a skirmish between the Italian locals and Napoleon's invading regiment, peasant girl Elisabetta Benedetti (the name means "blessed") is attended to by a handsome French lieutenant who is guarding his regiment's cache of gold. While Elisabetta dallies with him, her brother Corrado discovers the gold, and steals it.

If the treasure is not returned, the soldier will be shot, and Elisabetta and Corrado's father, sympathetic to the plight of the young soldier, swears "this gold will bring only misfortune to the thief." Elisabetta swears revenge, never learning that her own greedy brother caused her lover's death.

As their road trip continues through the green-gold hills, the kids hear the next chapter, as a century later, Elisabetta is revenged for her lost love by her descendant Elisa.

Having parlayed the stolen gold into an empire, the Benedettis are now entering politics, and Elisa's ambitious brother secretly schemes to banish her politically embarrassing peasant lover and his family from the country. Elisa's retribution for this betrayal is imaginative and appropriately rustic.

The final episode is set during World War II, as Massimo, the idealistic scion of the aristocratic family now nicknamed "Maledetti" ("cursed") by the envious locals, is tormented by the legends. He joins the resistance against the fascists, and finds his name both a blessing and a curse.

The family eventually arrives at the Benedettis' ancestral home, and when they finally meet their haunted, reclusive grandfather, it's evident how the sins of the fathers (and mothers) will be visited upon these children.

"Fiorile" has been cast with intriguingly unusual faces, and several actors shine in dual roles, as the Benedettis' fate follows them across the ages. Galatea Ranzi is particularly lovely and luminous as Elisabetta and Elisa, and sweet-featured Michael Vartan is affecting as her doomed soldier and as his troubled heir Massimo.

With such films as "Padre Padrone" and "The Night of the Shooting Stars," directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani became known for balancing the extraordinary with the ordinary. Their storytelling touch is refreshingly relaxed and fluid, as the Benedetti tales weave gracefully in and out of the family's road trip. And their delicate touch with magical realism allows "Fiorile" to float effortlessly where, for instance, "The House of the Spirits," though similar in ambition and scope, sinks into leaden exposition.

Without ostentatious expense, the filmmakers sensuously evoke several historical periods, suggesting a romantic continuity between the legacy of this family and the mythically bucolic Italian landscape that cradles it.

FIORILE (PG-13) -- In Italian with subtitles.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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