Mandolin Man

Corelli fiddles while Pelagia burns.

How far back have you watched a movie stripped off its trimmings, where the actors looked real and the story was simply told? This is one of those few-and-far-between efforts, where the only element indescribable is the backdrop against which it has been shot.

"Captain Corelli's Mandolin" is a story parallel to a village fable, where the characters are prettily sketched and the ingredients of romance and grief balance the scales. Set in the Grecian island of Cephallonia, in the Ionian Sea, is a setting that reminds you of days when the women were pretty and their language was song. Pelagia (Cruz), daughter to widower Iannis (Hurt), the only resident doctor in town, is an able pupil to her father’s discourses on the science of medicine. Happily betrothed to an ungainly fisherman, Mandras (Bale), she reluctantly sees him off to war, as he is dispatched to fight against the mounting forces of the Italians on the border. The year: 1940

With the Second World War raging, the town is suddenly besieged by Italian troops, who, with the German army, have been ordered to hold down the city. Captain Antonio Corelli (Cage) is captain to a battery that comprises men who are better singers than they are soldiers. Armed with the Italian passion for song and dance, they waste no time in converting their stay into a festival of sorts, and even manage to get people of the town to join in their revelry. The good-humoured captain wields his mandolin more skillfully than he does his gun, and his soulful strumming soon earns him the awe and devotion of his comrades and the townsmen alike. 

To accommodate the Italians, each Grecian family has been asked to host one soldier, and Captain Corelli and his mandolin find room at the home of Pelagia and her father. What starts off as animosity changes to love, with the Captain earning the devotion of the lady with his benevolent ways and warm countenance.

On the international front, the defeat of Mussolini by the Allies, forces the Italians to reluctantly submit their weapons to the residing Germans and return home. Having bonded deeply with the townsmen, and after witnessing the brash killing of four fellow soldiers, the soldiers decide to stay on and fight the Germans, whose double standards are now transparent.

Now in question is the fate of the town, resting on forces beyond its control, and the fates of Pelagia and Corelli, who, in the face of battle, have had to part ways. 

Director John Madden had more than half his worries put to rest when he decided to adapt Louis De Bernieres’ 1994 bestseller "Captain Corelli's Mandolin". Borrowing the central composition and amending the screenplay to requirements, the location is made-to-order-perfect and his cast, comprising of credible talent, does a fair job at performance. Cage’s delivery is not as marked as his previous successes, and his attempt at a Mediterranean brogue runs rough as he skids all-too-often into an American drawl. Cruz plays her part well, evincing exact proportions of pathos and drama where required.

A well-maneuvered mechanism drives this plot around probable potholes, and into a decently good climax.

This article was first published on 03 Jan 2002.