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Originally published Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

'Baarìa': A Sicilian boy's saga, with some magic moments

A movie review of Giuseppe Tornatore's "Baarìa," a beautiful, sometimes plodding memory film about a boy who becomes a Communist leader in a Sicilian village.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Baarìa,' with Francesco Scianna. Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. 138 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains profanity, violence, animal slaughter). In Italian, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema.

Giuseppe Tornatore hit the art-house jackpot two decades ago with "Cinema Paradiso," winning an Oscar as well as considerable box-office success. But he's fumbled with such gaudy follow-ups as "Malena" and "The Star-Maker." He may stand a better chance of connecting with his audience again with "Baarìa." (The title is slang for Bagheria, the writer-director's hometown.)

Like "Paradiso," it's a memory film that pays tribute to the movies with scenes that evoke fear of darkened auditoriums and the primal appeal of flickering images and individual frames of celluloid. There's even an episode, straight out of "Paradiso," that puts the spotlight on isolated frames from classic films.

But the storyline of "Baarìa" focuses mostly on a driven Sicilian boy, Peppino, who becomes a Communist leader over the course of half a century. Francesco Scianna, who plays Peppino through most of the film, has the job of aging several decades in the role. He's frequently more convincing than his makeup.

Scianna gives the character a larger-than-life emphasis that is necessary partly because you won't learn much about Mediterranean politics from "Baarìa." Parts of the picture are as dreamy as a DreamWorks logo — especially an episode in which Peppino literally flies over his village in what can only be an homage to "E.T."

What you're most likely to take away from the picture are the images: an active rock formation that feeds childhood superstitions; the "Godfather"-like glimpses of Sicilian family rituals; a dream about snakes that would unnerve Indiana Jones; a spaghetti feed that features what looks like a cast of starving thousands.

The art director, Maurizio Sabatini, earns extra points for finding the poetry in props. Dean Martin's "Magic Moments" is prominently featured on the soundtrack, along with a nostalgic new score by Ennio Morricone.

Tornatore claims he made the film "perhaps to recapture the innocence I lost the day I disembarked from my ship from Sicily." More than a few nuances may be comprehensible only to him — the picture does have its plodding moments — but there's enough left over for the rest of us to have a reasonably good time.

John Hartl:

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