Ironically tone deaf and incredibly stupid, melodramas don't get much worse or more tedious than Stijn Coninx's Marina. Following the rise of one-hit-wonder Rocco Granata, the details of this story, rather like his fame, struggle to sustain more than fifteen minutes of interest.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Stijn Coninx
Screenplay: Stijn Coninx, Rik D'Hiet.
Runtime: 118 minutes.
Cast: Matteo Simoni, Luigi Lo Cascio, Donatella Finocchiaro, Evelien Bosmans.
Trailer: “It's hot! It's a hit.” (warning: it most definitely isn't.)
Plot: Based on the true story of Rocco Granata, Marina follows a family’s migration from Italy to the coal mines of Belgium and their struggles to survive and maintain their identity within a foreign country. With only his dreams of singing and playing a piano accordion to keep him going, young Rocco similarly struggles against his family and his community to pursue his dream and become a famous performer. And etc, etc, etc – these scripts pretty much write themselves. There’s a romantic interest and some stupid dramas in there too.
Festival Goers? Miss it.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Review: Can one fault audiences for enjoying the mindless, melodramatic biopic Marina? The film is based on the true story of Rocco Granata; the Belgian-Italian singer-songwriter whose one hit wonder ‘Marina’ reached #1 in Germany and Belgium, as well as charting in the US and elsewhere. Granata is undoubtedly representative of many immigrants’ stories of hardship and success against the odds, but the details of that story, rather like his fame, struggle to sustain more than fifteen minutes of interest. Perhaps audiences are simply suckers for biopics of performing artists from struggling origins; but as films like Get on up! will attest, critics are not. From a cinematic point of view, there is not much recommend in Marina and much to criticise on the most basic of filmmaking levels; and my experience of the film, as an audience member, could be summed up as interminable and very long.
Opening in Calabria, we are treated to a picturesque view of Italian village life in the late 1940s. Terracotta-roofed insulae are bathed in golden summer light, and the local wives of the village hang their husband’s washing with cries of ‘hey, does Salvatore’s pistol fit in there?’ and replies of ‘only when it isn’t loaded!’ Such is the quality of the script, which sees the Granata family ravenously devouring thick bread, luscious tomatoes, and an abundance of cheese – setting up an intentional gastronomic contrast to the fare they will endure on arriving in Belgium. As films like The Hundred-Foot Journey attest, the elderly cinema-goers who will be the biggest market for this film have lost their faculty to reason, but thankfully not their dentures; therefore the most effective language a modern baby-boomer film can deploy is that of the stomach. The film is at pains to establish the Granata family’s happiness before the fall in this primitive wonderland; making love and cracking wise with entendres that barely earn the description of ‘double.’
When the family is forced to migrate to Belgium – partly for economic reasons, partly for chauvinist reasons, as Rocco’s father states a ‘family’s place is by their father’s side’ – the film is shot, for the first thirty minutes or so, entirely in cold blues, greys, and browns to fully telegraph to the audience what a change of circumstances this is. The acting is stagey and stiff – with characters turning their heads from side to side before disclosing a secret – while the flimsy coal miner’s sets aren’t, looking rather sparse and unconvincing. Things improve mildly when the Granata family are granted a house by the company and enter into a more stable existence; with humour stemming from characters falling off bikes, and the family dancing around in the kitchen to a new-fangled radio their father has bought. The lines are delivered by all concerned with that sort of earnest phoniness that one has come to expect from multi-lingual stars and internationally financed co-productions; accompanied by a veritable world championship of bad accents as the characters criticise each other’s English, Italian, and Flemish. The younger cast (Matteo Simoni, Evelien Bosmans), in particular, are prone to over-acting and are not assisted by some rather pedestrian direction; while veteran cast members Luigi Lo Cascio and Donatella Finocchiaro manage to acquit themselves with some subtlety, the wild gesticulations and tone of the script notwithstanding.
The drama of the first half of this unnecessarily long film is structured around a Dean Martin talent contest, telegraphed early via advertisement to the audience but absolutely Mesolithic in arriving. The usual MacGuffin is introduced in Rocco’s need for a more expensive accordion, occasioning the initial division of the film when his father absolutely forbids him from pursuing such fripperies, while his mother gives him some money she has stashed away from doing all the other miner’s laundry secretly (I never quite figured out whether this was literal, or a euphemism for her engaging in the oldest profession – either way, the father is predictably furious when he finds out about it). All along his path, Rocco is assisted by the kindness of strangers – with the accordion store owner basically gifting him the fanciest, diamond encrusted model to Rocco for the purposes of the plot. Why he couldn’t settle for the more modestly decorated but musically adequate model is never quite explained, and despite Rocco’s assurances the poor proprietor is never repaid or mentioned again. Even The Blues Brothers sent a little cash the way of Ray’s music store, before skipping out of the Palace Hotel Ballroom at the climax of that film.
The second half of the film devolves from there, introducing a typical blonde romantic interest with an anti-immigrant father (who, inevitably, undergoes a late conversion in the fourth act of the film). A lecherous obstacle to their love is introduced to create drama, a Malfoy of Slytherin clone, who is similarly rich and also a touch rapey (yes, it’s a ricochet melodrama alright). There are lots of suggestive slow zooms as Rocco performs, framed by suitable obstacles to cover the fact the actor cannot perform; and the mandatory, pragmatic advice from his father – ‘we all have a passion in life, but sometimes it is life that decides what we do’ – that these films delight in proving wrong by the time the credits roll. We’re treated to a fairly gratuitous sex scene – ripped whole from Titanic – and tonelessly re-used to titillate for the poster and marketing campaign attached to the film. Once the stakes are established, after a one-and-a-half hour trudge, we are catapulted into the climax and reversal of the film.
This comes in the form of two events just to make sure that the audience is emotionally carried along with the film; both introduced out of nowhere, and both resolved just as quickly, in that tell-tale sign of sloppy filmmaking. Rocco is mistakenly arrested for the rape of his girlfriend, but released on the flimsy testimony of a Belgian friend; and his father is incapacitated in a mining accident, unable to work and support the family. Lucky then, at that exact moment, that the hard work of Rocco’s friends has made his newly recorded ‘Marina’ an international hit. ‘When I play on the stage, they can see me. I feel important.’ Rocco explains, begging his father’s forgiveness and proving he can provide for the family through the magic of his piano accordion, defying the mantra ‘miners sons are supposed to become miners’ repeated throughout the film.
But why fight the tide? The audience actually gave the film an ovation at the viewing I attended, rewarding the laziness and lack of originality that is slowly cannibalising the film industry. Marina sends the tired old message that difference is good if we just understand each other, and that old enemies can all become friends – oh, except for that guy who raped a girl.
Rating: One star.