Take a Drink: whenever somebody sings… that way
Take a Drink: whenever a woman insta-moistens for Farinelli’s childlike voice
Take a Drink: for ghost horses
Take a Drink: for… is that milk?
Take a Drink: whenever somebody leaves in a huff
Do a Shot: when you realize what “Il Castrato” means… and whenever you’re reminded of it
By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
I’m going to try and write this entire review without making my castration, testicle, or infertility jokes. Since the subtitle of Farinelli, Il Castrato translates to “The Castrated”, it’s going to be difficult.
This is just a hot dog. Totally unrelated.
This film tells the story of Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, who was castrated as a boy to preserve his angelic singing voice. He goes on to become the most famous singer of his time, loyal to his composer brother even when the great Handel pursues him.
There is actually one surviving recording of a castrato singer, entitled “The Last Castrato”, dating from the turn of the century. The sound produced by the combination of an adult man’s lungs and a young boy’s larynx, frozen in development, is simply unlike anything you’ve ever heard. The amount of eerie beauty and deep, indescribable sadness packed in this one recording shows what an incredibly touching, compelling film could be made about the victims of this simply barbaric practice, and the art they created in spite of it.
Fifty shades of chilling.
Unfortunately, Farinelli is not this film. At all. What it does do right are the period touches- the lavish opera sets and Farinelli’s opulent, over-the-top peacocking costumes that would put Elton John to shame, and DP Walther van den Ende films them beautifully, kicking in the odd inspired angle or framing choice. The way Farinelli’s voice is made (as no human living can match a castrato’s) is interesting, as they digitally merge a female soprano and a male countertenor’s voice, and the effect grows on you greatly as the film goes on.
Unavoidably, it’s dubbed, though, and unavoidably, it looks goddamn silly whenever you hear this high girlish voice overlaid on this grown man’s mouth.
What murders this film, though, is the tack the film takes with Farinelli’s story. It’s like a reverse Amadeus, about a preternatural talent presented as some kind of 18th century rock star and a man jealous of this, but in this case Salieri is Frideric Freakin’ Handel, and he’s jealous of Farinelli’s significantly less talented brother Riccardo, who gets to compose for the greatest singer in the world thanks to some good old fashioned nepotism. Seems like our sympathies should lie the other way, and adding insult to injury, there’s zero historical basis for this rivalry. Jeroen Krabbe is a good choice for Handel, though.
Sure looks Krabbe to me.
Arguably, that’s even the B-plot to the film. An inordinate amount of time is spent on the brothers’ relationship, and by relationship, I mean in the disturbingly sexual sense. The ladies love a castrated man, you see, so in the film’s own words, “Carlo supplies the climax, and Riccardo plants the seed.” This is demonstrated in a hilariously unsexy manner, as often as possible. It’s the type of arthouse film that exults in the profane and the disgusting, and says more about its makers than its subjects.
Somebody wanted to bang a sibling, is what I’m sayin’
Even this could’ve worked if Director Gerard Corbiau had found a way to ground this in the psychology of his characters. Instead, he rejects analysis in favor of uninquisitive, greatly simplified flashbacks, and the result is characters who rarely display recognizable human decision-making or motivations.
Farinelli feels a lot like Amadeus… just castrated. It squanders a evocative premise to try and keep pace with that far better film, then plasters on a veneer of “liberated European sexuality” nastiness.