La Masseria Delle Alledolle (Paolo and Vittorio Traviani, 2007)
You’d think it would be tough to go wrong with a movie that has Paz Vega (Hable con Ella) and Moritz Bleibtreu (Lola Rennt) as the top-billed stars, with a stellar supporting cast including such folks as Alessandro Preziosi (Loose Cannons), Arsinée Khanjian (Ararat), Tchéky Karyo (The Patriot), Hristo Shopov (The Passion of the Christ), André Dussolier (Amélie), and Ángela Molina (Cet Obscur Objet du Désir). And yet the Taviani Brothers (Kaos) seem to have done exactly that; they took a novel about the Armenian genocide of 1915 and turned it into… a romance. You can see where problems might arise here.
Nunik (Vega) and Ferzan (Bleibtreu) are old friends. Ferzan’s got a crush, of course, but could never let her know, because she’s too good for him—her family is rich and famous, and he’s just a cop. Nunik is Armenian, Ferzan is Turkish. All of this is happening in 1915, while underground groups are whipping Turkish nationalism into a frenzy (where it still exists today; even referring to the Armenian genocide within the country’s borders can get you tossed in jail for the crime of “insulting Turkishness”. No, I’m not making this up: google Elif Shafak’s recent trial for that exact charge). Ferzan belongs to one of them, but as the language gets more and more violent, he starts thinking that perhaps he should warn Nunik’s family and get them the hell out of town to their country estate (the Lark Farm that gives the English-language release its name). He does this—and then word gets out, leading to a huge procession of ethnic Armenians trying to get out of the city to seek refuge in the Lark Farm at the same time the Turks are attempting an ethnic cleansing. Panic, of course, ensues.
…and on top of all this, we have this romance subplot. I’m sure you can see where that was a good idea.
Still, I have to give it that the directors, while taking every possible step wrong they could, are good at what they do, and it would be well-nigh impossible to mask the quality of this cast, so it’s not a completely painful viewing experience (and one can never have too much Paz Vega)—but it is wrong in just about every way, and will leave you wondering what you just watched, and possibly why. ** ½