AFTER THE SUCCESS of Shakespeare in Love (seven Oscars) and Mrs. Brown (also a Seattle favorite), director John Madden now turns to a wartime romance, as he explained during a recent visit to town. "It is a fictional world that is woven around a kind of historical circumstance. There are genuine historical characters, [but] Corelli is not," he says of his adaptation of the 1994 novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin (reviewed this issue, p. 93). Of the World War II background, he continues, "The Germans essentially overwhelmed [the Italians] and decided to occupy Greece, and they parceled it out, and Mussolini got the islands, which had historically been Venetian colonies. The Italians surrendered in late July of 1943, and that was where the problems began. The Germans reinforced, and the Italians then resisted at the point when they were supposed to hand over their weapons."
What most Americans don't know is that a series of massacres then ensued, as Third Reich troops gunned down the rebellious Italians. "Anywhere between 8,000 and 10,500 Italians were shot in three days," says Madden. "There is a memorial to them on the island. It's a big scar in Italian history. I think Hitler was incensed that there was loss of German life at the hands of their former allies."
How do you make a romance out of that? Of his two lovers (played by Nicolas Cage and Pen鬯pe Cruz), Madden admits, "Obviously these two people are pretty scarred by what's happened. I wanted this to be a film where even the love story is about loss, because they never had time to have a relationship. It's therefore as if they're beginning the relationship at the end of the film . . . another idea that's quite difficult to get across in the poster!"
Speaking of marketing, he notes, "I think there's a kind of homogenizing tendency within the film industry to make every film look like every other film. So this one becomes pegged as an epic love story against the backdrop of war, which is not exactly an accurate depiction, nor description, of the film. It's a bit of a paradox, that. A film like this probably benefits from some sort of contextualization. Directors always look at trailers with their jaws dropping and say, 'That's not the film I made!'"
Madden's emphasis in Corelli is on "how people rise up out of catastrophes, whether man-made or natural, and continue somehow—that was something that was strongly evoked by the book and, actually, even more strongly evoked by the place, when you go there. Somehow, life struggles on in some form. The continuity is the point."