by Milton LawsonContributing Writer
Writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore has once again entered the realm of cinema-within-cinema with his Academy award-nominated film, The Star Maker.
Tornatore's most well-known film, Cinema Paradiso, dealt with a sentimental, old movie theater in the golden age of cinema, and his new film, The Star Maker, is about a talent scout roving across Italy giving screen tests, searching for the next big star for the silver screen.
It would be impossible to ignore the love of cinema that is the
thematic centerpiece connecting these two films. Tornatore is well aware of the power of cinema, especially in its ability to provide hope.
The main character, the Star Maker, is in the hope-providing business. He will, for a small fee, record the natural talents of Italian citizens across the countryside by giving them a screen test. These tests will then be forwarded to film producers, and in no time, someone will be lifted from their village to become the next big thing.
But this hope, the hope for happy endings that always seem to be promised by the movies, is not present in The Star Maker. Tornatore uses these hopes, plus the expectations of the audience, and brilliantly contrasts them against reality.
This is echoed in his earlier Cinema Paradiso, where one character comes to the realization that happy endings are easy in the movies, but in real life, they're rare, and they're never easy.
The roving talent scout that is the centerpiece of The Star Maker allows Tornatore to use the beautiful landscape of Italy to provide the backdrop of the story. Many directors would overwhelm their story by concentrating on such picturesque scenery, framing each shot with the sole purpose of creating a piece of film that could stand on its own as a visual work of art. Tornatore avoids such temptation and allows his story to take the forefront, balancing the needs of it while still being able to relay the beauty of Italy to the audience.
The title character of the film is named Joe Morelli and is played to perfection by Sergio Castellitto. The salesman aspect of this character was well-written by Tornatore and brilliantly brought to life by Castellitto's performance. It's always been said that the best salesmen could sell refrigerators to Eskimos. The character of Joe Morelli in The Star Maker not only possesses this ability, but he also could convince the Eskimos to buy those proverbial refrigerators above retail prices.
It's also been said that there is nothing in this world worse than a salesman. They will bait you, then switch. Tornatore himself is guilty of writing and directing a film that is basically a bait-and-switch exercise. He gives you a glimpse of happiness, a glimpse of hope, then rips it away.
The reality pours down like a rainstorm, leaving the audience in a condition not unlike a child who's just had his or her teddy bear taken away.
Toward the end of the film, Tornatore makes one incredible choice with his screenplay, showing the passing of a number of years in an instant. In most films, you'll get a series of fade-outs, or a voice-over, or a title card that says, "two years later." In The Star Maker, the passage of this time happens in one instant edit. This serves the story well, creating an immediate, bold contrast between the past and the present.
The Star Maker has been criticized for having an ending too similar to Tornatore's breakthrough success, Cinema Paradiso. I would offer that the ending of his new film rings more true in that it relives moments that were actually shown in the film, whereas the older film relives moments never viewed by the audience.
Cinema Paradiso is a stronger film and affects the audience more than The Star Maker, although the former does so by using sentimentality and pouring on spoonfuls of sugar-sweet emotion.
The Star Maker, although darker and a bit less moving, is an interesting journey and a great piece of filmmaking.