All the movie’s a stageBy Zarminae Ansari
Directed by John Turturro
Written by Brandon Cole and John Turturro
With John Turturro, Katherine Borowitz, Christopher Walken, Susan Sarandon, Beverly D’Angelo, Rufus Sewell
Illuminata is an elegant and beautiful cinematic experience, but its many seemingly meaningless and unresolved subplots are frustrating. The film is redeemed, however, by fantastic sets and costumes, some beautiful writing and literary references, and a wonderful cast of actors.
The story revolves around a theater company in turn-of-the century Manhattan. The company is led by Tuccio (John Turturro), a writer, and his wife Rachel (Turturro’s real-life wife Katherine Borowitz). Tuccio has just written the play Illuminata, and is trying to get it produced. The film Illuminata is a behind-the-scenes look at theater, and a comparison with Shakespeare in Love is almost inevitable.
Here, unlike Shakespeare in Love, the line between theater and reality is blurred to such an extent that one never knows if the actors are spouting theatrical dialogue to convey real emotion or if the playwright is using real life as inspiration for his play: on a few occasions the actors admit to the plagiarism of emotion in “real life.”
The question is, What is real? All the world’s a stage here, and all the characters seem to be more than aware of that. The interplays in the movie (the farcical elements with real pathos, the essence of theater, and essential truths about human relationship) are fascinating.
Among some of the unusual techniques used in this film are beautifully crafted puppets that introduce the different acts and scenes of the film. A particularly memorable scene occurs when Tuccio tensely observes the reaction of the critics after his new play. Suddenly, the characters burst into song -- showing us Tuccio’s imagination at work -- and just as suddenly return to their original positions.
Illuminata has a talented cast, but the only actor who is really able to see his character through is Christopher Walken, who played the eccentric and flamboyant critic Bevalaqua with a strong Italian accent.
The film is dissapointing in its lack of plot resolution, underdeveloped characters, and the wasted talent of a fabulous cast. Scenes and sub-plots seem to be randomly strewn together and are not tied up even to the end, leaving one with a sense of great dissatisfaction. Not seeing the story and characters through was this otherwise beautiful and interesting movie’s biggest flaw.