The Fine Art of Love (2005)
Directed by John Irvin
Written by Frank Wedekind, Alberto Lattuada, Ottavio Jemma, James Carrington, Sadie Jones
Produced by Ida Di Benedetto, Jan Balzer, André Djaoui, Patrick Irwin, Mario Cotone
Starring Jacqueline Bisset, Mary Nighy, Hannah Taylor Gordon, Silvia De Santis, Anna Maguire, Eva Grimaldi, Enrico Lo Verso, Urbano Barberini, Natalia Tena
From childhood, orphans sequestered at a gated Thuringian boarding school during the early 20th century are immersed in a taxing balletic regimen inflicted as much as conducted by its cruelly unsparing headmistress (Bisset) and terpsichorean instructor (Grimaldi) for the ultimate benefit of a princely patron (Barberini). Can a nascent, sapphic love between two of the school’s star pupils (Nighy, Gordon) weather its crushing intramural tyranny to outlast the forbearance of anyone viewing this supremely mawkish melodrama? Not at all: Irvin navigates his overscripted, overscored, overheated Anglo-Italo-Czech production into a euripus of trite theatrics, menstrual hysterics and the most porcine concerted histrionics in recent memory. Only Bisset sustains any dignity by interpreting her wicked warder as something resembling a plausible person, but even her rarefied instincts can’t mitigate that character’s most risible tirrets. Otherwise, all of her co-stars are steadily, horrendously hammy, their overperformances exacerbated by bum dubbing fit for one of U.S. Manga Corps’ OAVs in the worst Italian tradition, and dialogue that’s stupidly stilted and supererogantly expositive by Wiseauan standards. Perhaps half of the players are miscast: swarthy Sicilian Lo Verso could scarcely look less German, and lumbering, potato-faced Nighy plays a putative beauty opposite stunningly adorable Gordon as her supposedly homely lass. From every dopey declamation to grating gust to adolescent observation to needless murder to the smallest dramatic gesture, Irvin wrests maximal bathos, which culminates in a cockamamie climax importing suicides, arson and rape contextualized to chastise that nefarious patriarchy. A few symbolic shots are as glaringly graceless as any other of this clinker’s excesses, further certifying Irvin’s artless misdirection behind the luxuriant veneer of Dante Ferretti’s typically posh production design and Fabio Zamarion’s fine photography. Not a subtle moment survives a suffocating score by Paul Grabowsky, creeping about every plaster corner and architrave to disambiguate potentially equivocal shots and instruct its audience with dissonant swells in minor keys. It’s wretched from its first ostentation to conclusive shriek.
Instead, watch Innocence, Hadzihalilovic’s superior, empyreally meditative adaptation of Wedekind’s novel.

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