After dealing with the unification of Italy in We Believed, Mario Martone returns with another film of “unassuming” proportions: Leopardi, a biopic of the eponymous poet, one of the most revered and studied in the boot-shaped peninsula lately known more for its scantily dressed TV starlets than its literary output. Oppressed by an austere father, fragile health and a generous hunchback, the young Giacomo Leopardi (a count no less) lives his literary passions with rapturous transport but leads a rather cloistered life, perennially bent over books. Women attract him from a distance, but when the time comes to make a move, he clumsily return to his father’s library after having mumbled a graceless excuse. His life and worldview, which the film didactically illustrates, was caught between a cosmic pessimism tinged with melancholic despair and a burning need to explore the inscrutability of human emotions. While his father conceived of culture as a tool of discipline and dominion, Leopardi experienced it on his gaunt skin as the blistering palpitation of freedom.
Elio Germano, an actor of intermittent talent, interprets the iconic Italian poet as a fusion of Nosferatu, Rain Man and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Martone, whose phonetic and semantic assonance with the Italian word “mattone” (brick) pretty much sums up his approach, directs this uninspiring film with tedious inertia. Rather than Leopardi’s excruciating affaire with a thankless world, the film resembles his father’s severe pedantry: not a single moment of unexpected brilliance, narrative invention or anything that could lift the film from its diligently constructed mold. One suspects that not even the recent publication by Penguin of Leopardi’s magnum opus, the 2,500 pages of the Zibaldone, translated into English for the first time, can help this hefty film to escape its provincial dimension and enhance possible distribution deals outside of Italy. Shame, because Leopardi’s uncompromising literary creations and tormented genius are definitely of the universal and immortal kind.