[box cover]


Who wants to see a film about a castrated 18th Century Neapolitan opera singer? A lot of people, apparently. Farinelli did respectable opening business world-wide, and went on to win a Golden Globe (not that the award means all that much). An international mutt, the film, directed by Belgian helmer Gérard Corbiau and written by Andree Corbiau, is a French-U.S.-Belgium-Argentina-Italy co-production and was released first in 1994 as Farinelli: Il Castrato, then came out the next year in North America by Sony Pictures Classics, whereupon it made $2.1 million dollars, rather high for a speciality film of its kind. It was also nominated for a foreign film Oscar. The movie's success must have had something to do with its exotic subject matter, its clanging echoes of Amadeus, and its explicit eroticism, which is something that Americans don't see too often any more in European imports. Certainly, the film begins startlingly enough, with a nude youth, whom we soon learn has been castrated, leaping to his death from a great height after warning the young Carlo Broschi (later played as an adult by the Daniel Day-Lewis twin Stefano Dionisi) about the hazards of singing well: one's testicles are removed under the belief that the surgery "freezes" the vocal cords in a state of permanent feminine purity. The warnings go unheeded. The real Carlo Broschi (1705-1785) was a famous singer whose voice is said to have been remarkable. Carlo's older brother Riccardo (Enrico Lo Verso) was also a musician, and as the narrative progresses, the duo join in partnership, with Riccardo conducting and Carlo, who takes the joke name Farinelli in reference to his music school, singing and seducing women (whom Riccardo finishes off after Carlo initiates a seduction). In the beginning, their protector, mentor, and promoter is Handel (Jeroen Krabbé), and he keeps reminding Carlo that Riccardo is a mediocrity who is hurting the singer's career. By this point in the film it's clear that Farinelliis really about the brothers, rendering it a sort of bewigged and powdered Raging Bull. In this regard, the film inspires a moderate amount of interest, but ultimately it feels somewhat pointless for all its exoticism. A Laserdisc edition of Farinelli arrived in 1995, and this DVD seems to be a repeat of that version, which the film needs — Columbia TriStar released an earlier Region 2 DVD of this film in April of 1997, and by all reports it was a mess, with terrible compression artifacts, bad color, and sketchy sound. This new Region 1 edition is a straightforward account of the film, but with an excellent transfer of Walther van den Ende's color photography, though the Dolby 2.0 Surround doesn't do a heck of a lot for all the music in the film. Anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. The menu, with a 28-chapter scene selection, is static, but with music staffs for highlights. Meager one-screen talent films summarize the careers of Broschi, and Corbiau, a minor director of four films. Also on hand is the film's trailer, plus three others that have nothing to do with it. Four-page promo insert with production notes in the keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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