There's a lot of Sicilian history in this episodic opus from Giuseppe Tornatore (whose Cinema Paradiso you either love or loathe). Three generations of the Torrenuova family move from impoverished '30s peasantry to contented '80s bourgeoisie, but never escape their village. And that, precisely, is the film's great limitation: It's wonderfully specific in its details—a pregnant woman drinks fresh-killed cow's blood for the iron; a boy smuggles snails inside his shirt—but protagonist Giuseppe, aka "Peppino," never goes anywhere. He grows up, marries, becomes a minor Communist Party official, and runs for the parliament in Rome, but there's no compelling life trajectory in what's essentially 138 minutes of anecdotes. A long, very indulgent and nostalgic 138 minutes, in which World War II barely registers—hooray, the fascists are gone!—and tedious postwar politics make you yearn for Berlusconi's bunga-bunga era. Tornatore builds the film upon his own family history and village folklore in Bagheria ("Baarìa" in local dialect ). Baarìa is his loving effort to recreate, or at least recall, the hometown he left in the mid-'80s, when the film finally ends in a bizarre, time-twisting coda. Still, if you can make it to the end credits, Tornatore effectively distills the prior two hours into some affecting old home-movie clips and audio snippets from the past. Though grainy and faded, they better communicate the loss of place than Baarìa's burnished recreations.
Margareth Madè as the village beauty and seamstress.
Runs at SIFF Cinema, Fri., Jan. 28–Thurs., Feb. 3. Not rated. 138 minutes.