Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Julianne Moore, Christopher Lambert, Ken Watanabe, Sebastian Koch, Thorbjørn Harr, Olek Krupa, Elsa Zylberstein, Tenoch Huerta
RunTime: 1 hr 41 min
Rating: NC-16 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 13 September 2018
Synopsis: Based on Ann Patchett’s best-selling novel, BEL CANTO is a dramatic love story that follows a famous soprano (Academy Award winner Julianne Moore) who travels to a military dictatorship in South America to give a private concert at a party for a wealthy Japanese industrialist (Academy Award nominee Ken Watanabe). Just as the glittering gathering of diplomats and politicians convenes, the mansion is taken over by a guerrilla rebel group demanding the release of their imprisoned comrades. Threats are made, lives are lost, a tense negotiation begins, and a month long standoff ensues. While they are confined to the house, the hostages and their captors, who speak different languages, are forced to find ways to communicate. Music, especially the beautiful arias performed by Moore’s character, a songbird in captivity, sparks a shared sense of comradeship and even love, uniting the disparate housemates as they form unexpected bonds, overcome their differences, and discover their shared humanity.
[WARNING: MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS]
Who would have thought that terrorists and victims can get along together?
Based on a novel by Ann Patchett of the same title, “Bel Canto” is a story loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis (also known as the Lima Crisis) in Lima, Peru, with Roxanne Coss (Julianne Moore) performing at a private party for Katsumi Hosokawa (Ken Watanabe), a rich investor who was coaxed into coming despite not having much interest in investing in property in Peru, only to be attacked by a terrorist organisation in search for the President and wanting to overthrow the government.
For some peculiar reason, the terrorists and hostages are forced to work and live together in the private mansion where the terrorists hold the hostages and in time, formed a strange alliance and unlikely friendship among each other, which is interesting and very intriguing to watch as the story slowly unveils, although it may seem slightly unrealistic and too much of a fantasy.
The delivery of the characters by the multi-national, multi-cultural cast is diverse and colourful even for such a dark setting. One of the more outstanding characters is of Gen (Ryo Kase), a translator and possibly the only character in the film who can understand everyone’s languages. Gen gives this sense of being able to stand firm and grounded amidst the madness and staying as neutral as possible. Yet Gen falls in love with Karmen, one of the younger terrorists, losing himself in forbidden love and untouched boundaries.
The romance between Gen and Karmen, along with the romance Roxanne and Mr Hosokawa, feels intriguing and the development of their stories feel natural and well-paced.
Apart from the main characters, the development of the other characters is nicely done and each character is given enough room for exposure, without overbearing each other.
One of the biggest distractions, however, is the lack of proper syncing between Julianne Moore and the singing voice of Renée Fleming. Although the lack of syncing was most prominent at the start and got better into the film, the sad part is that Julianne could have done more to do justice to the beauty of Renée Fleming’s amazing vocals.
The development of the storyline starts off crawling slowly and for a period of time, one is left in confusion when watching the film and it is only halfway through that one would be able to see the actual alliance between both parties, amidst mistrust and judgement. By then, the climax reaches and there is no time for the audience to grasp onto the beauty of the unlikely friendship, abruptly ending what could have been a greater development of the plot.
All in all, “Bel Canto” is endearing and heart-breaking. “Bel Canto” puts you into perspective and makes you rethink life and that the world is not as clear cut as it could be, or as we want it to be.
“Bel Canto” moves along like a drugged opera; putting one through emotions with lyrics lacing around the musical notes and the melody taking one on an unexpected ride, but yet taking its time to develop the story but falls straight down once the drug wanes off, leaving audiences feeling shocked.
(A strange touching film and beautiful piece of work, if you can get past the horrid syncing and the strange pacing)
Review by Ron Tan