Age-old definitions of enemy and ally, victor and victim, get thrown into question in Paul Weitz’s deft film adaptation of Ann Patchett’s award-winning novel Bel Canto. Though not an opera, the film, its title translating to “beautiful singing,” delivers the high drama of one. Julianne Moore radiates elegance as the defiant American opera singer Roxane Coss, who has been invited to sing at the home of an unnamed South American country’s vice president for an audience of wealthy internationals. As the evening concludes, a band of mostly teenage guerrillas bursts in and holds everyone hostage. El Presidente refuses their demands, and the ensuing standoff goes on for weeks.
Meanwhile, the physics of love and hate happen to operate differently inside the mansion. Hostages sympathize with their captors, and love blooms between some of them despite language barriers and the threat of violence. The film only loosely tracks the passage of time, however, and the relationships develop quicker than makes emotional sense. But pacing problems are easy to overlook thanks to some outstanding performances. Beyond the luminous Moore is Ken Watanabe as Japanese businessman Mr. Hosokawa, with whom Moore’s singer ignites a slow-burn love affair. Ryo Kase as Gen the translator is another standout; his romantic scenes with young rebel Carmen (María Mercedes Coroy) are the film’s most touching. There are guns everywhere, of course, but they rarely go off. And when they do, the results are appropriately gut-wrenching. No one loves or dies without purpose in this searing and artful film.
Paul WeitzJulianne Moore, Ken Watanabe, Christopher Lambert, Thorbjørn Harr, Sebastian KochPaul Weitz, Anthony WeintraubCaroline Baron, Anthony Weintraub, Paul Weitz, Andrew Miano, Lizzie Friedman, Karen LauderScreen Media Films