After making his directorial debut four decades ago with “Fists in the Pocket,” Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio has tackled many genres and styles, but one consistent characteristic has been his savage socio-political themes and undertones. His 2010 film, “Vincere,” proved to be the most explosive yet, capturing disgraced Italian leader Benito Mussolini’s rise to power from his abandoned wife’s perspective, and now he plans to do it again, this time with one of the world’s most talented actresses in tow.
Cineuropa reports that Bellocchio will explore the right-to-die issue with “Sleeping Beauty,” which follows three interconnected storylines against the backdrop of Italy’s 2009 Eluana Englaro controversy. “The Best of Youth” scribe Stefano Rulli and novelist Veronica Naimo supplied the script, which follows in one storyline a retired movie star, played by Isabelle Huppert, as she cares for her comatose daughter, and in another thread, Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher (“I Am Love”) features as a young Catholic militant. The supporting cast includes Toni Servillo, Maya Sansa, and the director’s son, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio.
One of the most divisive issues of the past decade in the U.S. has been that of Terri Schiavo, in which the legal rights for Schiavo’s husband to terminate her life support were fiercely debated, and Italy faced a similar one with Englaro. After spending 17 years in a vegetative state following a car crash, her family garnered the support of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to win a decade-long court battle against Silvio Berlusconi and the Vatican to finally take her off support.
Religious opposition has been intense with “Sleeping Beauty” as well, as the conservative Catholic region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, where the film was shot, tried to prevent the production from securing up to $200,000 in financing. “We don’t want to be perceived as a place that fosters a culture of death,” said one of the region’s citizens, but Bellocchio and co. were clear to emphasize that the film doesn’t follow the Englaro case directly, while also never taking sides.
Producer Riccardo Tozzi, who has weathered the protests and controversy this entire time, described the film as, “A beautiful meditation on life and death, wrongly interpreted as a film which supports euthanasia.” Bellocchio is set to launch pre-sales for the finished film in Cannes this week, and we’d guess a fall premiere is a possibility.