Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, the Italian brothers who co-directed flinty, passionate films like Padre Padrone and The Night of Shooting Stars in the late Seventies and early Eighties, probably haven't gone soft in the head. But Fiorile, which traces the legend of a family curse through two centuries of domestic upheaval, has a sweet, almost precious quality undetectable in their previous work. The Tavianis remain masterful storytellers, but they're a little careless this time with the zabaglione.
In the verdant hills of Tuscany, people have called the Benedetti ("blessed") family the "Maledettis" ("cursed") ever since the late eighteenth century. Then, we see, Jean (Michael Vartan), a handsome young officer in Napoleon's invading army, falls in love with the peasant family's lovely daughter, Elisabetta (Galatea Ranzi). Swept away by passion, Jean neglects a chest of regimental gold.
Jean is martyred, the tainted gold makes the Benedettis rich, and the Tavianis are supplied with three more episodes, also viewed in flashback. In 1903 a jilted bride-to-be, Elisa, (again, Ranzi) takes ancestral revenge on her scheming brothers. In 1944 Elisa's grandson, Massimo (again, Vartan) is plagued anew by the family stain when he and his beloved (Chiara Caselli) try to take up arms against the Fascists.
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In the present day, Massimo's son, French daughter-in-law and two grandchildren (who've been regaled en route with the dark family stories) unexpectedly visit the haunted old man, and the Benedetti saga limps to a conclusion, a bit too drenched in ghosts and melodrama.
Fiorile (the name Jean gave to Elisabetta in honor of the Revolution) is about the captivating power of myth in families. Amid its playfulness it takes on tones of fairy tale and fable, and it's hugely enjoyable in spots.
But Italian films are not known for their sluggishness: This one lumbers along, taking in every detail along the generational route, doting too long on many. Are the Benedettis really cursed? Probably not, but Fiorile might be--by mediocrity.