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Film Review from the Film Gang

February 9th, 2001 -- Hear Carla Frecerro's review in Real Audio

Hannibal, directed by Ridley Scott - Review by Carla Freccero

Now playing at Crossroads Cinema, the Galaxy 6, Northridge Cinemas, the 41st Avenue Playhouse, Green Valley Cinemas, Santa Cruz Cinema 9, Scotts Valley Cinemas, and the Skyview Drive-In, Hannibal is the latest in Ridley Scott’s two-run love affair with Italy.  This time it’s Florence, that city timelessly rotting in its 15th century splendor.  And indeed, he makes the city look incredibly artificial, as is his wont: remember LA in Blade Runner and the digitized Rome in Gladiator.  With Florence, though, it’s all done with lighting and “crowd scenes”:  the city itself is already a kind of uncanny mausoleum, with its statues dotting the piazzas and its museum-like municipal buildings.  What is missing is the dirty hustle and bustle of this eminently tourist-infested town, and that makes it the perfect stage for the camp morality play that is Thomas Harris’ sequel to Silence of the Lambs.  The star-studded group--Scott himself, De Laurentiis, who produced it, David Mamet and Steven Zaillian, who co-wrote the screenplay, and the actors:  Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Giancarlo Giannini, Ray Liotta, and Francesca Neri—makes palatable—so to speak--to mainstream and adult moviegoers what might otherwise be a film too wacky and gross to tempt them. 

And what fine performances these are:  Hopkins is delightful as always, while Julianne Moore doing her Jodie Foster interpretation outdoes her predecessor in everything but butchness which, let’s face it, Julianne Moore could never ever achieve in a million years.  Giannini is moody and desperate as Rinaldo Pazzi, descendant of the illustrious Pazzi family member who in the Renaissance conspired against the Florentine government and was disemboweled and hanged from the Medici Palace.  Gary Oldman is, well, unrecognizable as Mason Verger, one-time child molester who peeled off his own face under the spell of Lecter and now seeks revenge. 

There’s lots of smart stuff going on this movie, and from reading the book, one would have had a hard time figuring out how to make it work—it’s just so over-the-top.  But the film takes the campiness and makes it sophisticated; it also takes the relationship between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter and makes it steamy and romantic. And it even does a nice job with Dante’s Divine Comedy, although Hopkins’ Italian accent is simply atrocious.  Infernal irony, the principle of punishment that makes Dante’s hell such a gruesomely vivid place, means that the punishment fits the crime in a poetic sort of way.  In the grove of the suicides, Dante meets Pier delle Vigne, trapped in a tree.  When the branch breaks it bleeds and Pier talks.  Hannibal’s “test” to become superintendent of the Caponi papal library and art collection--where the scenes are actually shot--involves giving an oral exposition of this episode of the Inferno, and he does a brilliant job of linking this episode with portraits of Judas hanging himself, all the while winking knowingly at the police chief who is about to make the same mistake.  And if Pazzi is Judas then well, that makes Hannibal Jesus, a joke repeated when he is about to be martyred by Verger Mason’s swine in the denouement of the film.  In this way, Scott reminds us of cannibalism’s Christian heritage in the sacrificial consumption of the godhead.

Ok, still, this movie’s not for the feeble-stomached.  But it’s not as gross as you might think.  And it’s a mysterious and moody love-story where both the serial killer and the final girl survive.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Freccero 2001