Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mario Puzo's: The Family

Author(s): Alex S.
Location: Mexico

"Mario Puzo’s: The Family"

Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola & Branko Lustig
Written by Peter Morgan, William Nicholson & David Franzoni
Executive Producers Scott Rudin, Albert S. Ruddy & Brad Grey
Edited By Jill Bilcock A.C.E
Cinematography by Remi Adefarasin B.S.C
Music by Hans Zimmer
Costume Design by Alexandra Byrne
Production Design by Guy Dyas
Art Direction by Martin Childs
Set Decoration by Peter Howitt & Jill Quertier

Main Cast

Cesare Borgia – Henry Cavill
Pope Alexander VI – Michael Gambon
Lucrezia Borgia – Abbie Cornish
Giovanni Borgia – Charlie Hunnam
Giuffre Borgia – Alex Pettyfer
Don Michellotto – David Wenham
Duarte Brandao – Callum Blue
Giuliano Della Rovere – Al Pacino
Vanozza Catanei – Cate Blanchett
Sancha de Aragon – Natalie Dormer
Giulia Farnese – Sienna Gillory
Girolamo Savonarola – Jeremy Irons
Ascanio Sforza – Ian McDiarmid
Ludovico Sforza – Jason Issacs
Giovanni Sforza – Kevin McKidd
Alfonso de Aragon – Hugh Dancy
Caterina Sforza – Polly Walker
Niccolo Machiaveli – Luke Mably

Tagline: "Borgia, above all and forever"

Synopsis: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus Papam!


As white smoke rises from the Vatican chimneys, a figure rises from the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica, the new Pope Alexander VI; Rodrigo Borgia is now the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ and the Holy Father of the Catholic Church.

Chapter I – Rodrigo Borgia (Gambon) always had grand aspirations for his family, after being elected pope, he knew he had plenty of enemies to deal with before consolidating his power of the Holy See, he knew something must be done so he quickly assigned his older son Cesare as a cardinal to protect his interests in the clergy, even if it went against his desires, Cesare always favored a military career and was known for his excellent abilities as a strategist but his father appointed his hotheaded and womanizing brother Giovanni as Captain of the Vatican Army, his youngest son Giuffre, the most repudiated son, would marry Sancha de Aragon and at last he arranged the marriage of her daughter Lucrezia with Giovanni Sforza, a knucklehead from a very prominent Italian family with the purpose of keeping the peace between the pontifical states and the kingdom of Milan. However before the marriage was consummated, he knew Lucrezia’s loyalty should be secured by giving herself to her brother, this act would join the two of them in an indescribable way, their souls would become one and they would share an incestuous love that would never let them be together.

Pope Alexander quickly consolidated his power and soon he would be known as a despotic and cruel man, alongside his ravishing mistress Giulia he would sunk the papacy into a state of degradation, corruption and vileness. He was a very ambitious man whose main objective was to become the most powerful man in Europe, looking down on kings and emperors and abusing his power and influences as Vicar of Christ, as usual Duarte Brandao a mysterious man never left his side as his most trusted counselor.

Dark days were coming, his papacy would not be as easy as he thought or expected, he faced threats from every front, as the vicious, calculating and power obsessed cardinal, Giuliano DellaRovere began to plot against the Pope with the help of the French Emperor to take over the pontifical states and the Vatican itself. Also a Florentine friar called Girolamo Savonarola would denounce his crimes and abuses as the leader of the church. The imminent divorce of his daughter would provoke that fall of the alliances and a state of chaos in the Vatican.

However no day would be darker than that terrible night. Giovanni Borgia had a no so secret relationship with his brother’s wife; Giuffre was always seen as weak and unintelligent, the weakest link of the family but he would show something beyond him or what anyone would expect. Giovanni as Captain of the Vatican Army had taken victories from his lieutenants and even his brother Cesare, provoking hate from his forces. One night he was missing, “lost in a brothel” people said, but no one expected that he would be found floating in the river with stab wounds all over his body. He was the pope’s predilect son; he was never seen so devastated but no one could find the one to blame. Soon the French army was retreating; DellaRovere hid in France, her daughter was free of her worthless husband and the last time anyone saw Savonarola, he was with Don Michellotto the pope’s personal bodyguard and chief of security, he was never seen again after that, only maybe a finger or probably a hand. The pope had restored his position.

Chapter II – Cardinal Borgia was a disciplined man, always respectful of his father and his decisions, even if he didn’t agreed with them, he always knew he belonged to the military force and not the clergy but he accepted the role bestowed on him and time-honored his responsibilities.

After his brother’s dead he was accused of it because of jealousy and resentment, but he failed to acknowledged this rumors and innuendos. Knowing the situation of the Vatican he urged his father to let him take control of the Vatican Army, his father agreed and he left the vowels and became what he was born to be, a soldier.

Even though he was a known ladies man, his love for his sister never diminished and she never stopped loving him back, after fathering her child she secluded herself on a monastery where she met Alfonso de Aragon and quickly fell in love with him, they would soon marry. For Cesare this union was inconceivable, his love was too great to be forgotten, this took away a part of her humanity and a part of his soul.

The Pontifical States were divided among some of the most prominent families in Italy, however the Pope had a plan for it, he intended to unify these States and rule them under the power of the Vatican, and Cesare was to command the enterprise.

One by one all the cities fell to the power of the Vatican, only the Sforza’s were between Italy’s complete domination. Ascanio was an old cardinal and his nephews Ludovico and Giovanni would not let their cities fall, but Cesare’s strength was unbeatable and no one could oppose him, he however found a worthy rival in the less expected person, Caterina Sforza, a very powerful woman and a fierce warrior, she protected her land with a passionate effort but was betrayed and incarcerated. In the darkest and most horrible conditions, they would create a relationship as horrid as hell itself, by this time Cesare’s face was overcome with a disease forcing him to wear a black mask; only Caterina and Lucrezia would dare to look at his face.

Italy was under Borgia control, however all the families were angry by this abuse causing hidden resentment and hate. Even Alfonso, Cesare’s brother in law attempted to kill him; this would cause his death by the Pope’s orders. Lucrezia was faced with unbearable sorrow and hate for her family. Even Giuffre’s wife Sancha, provoked her own death after spending several months in the dungeons as a prisoner, guilty of conspiring against the Pope. The family was divided and there were actions that would never be forgiven.

One night after dinner, the Pope and Cesare became very ill, no one knew the origin of this disease, Lucrezia, already married again against her will, and Giuffre were summoned to see their father, he only asked for forgiveness to his sons and as the bell rang he stopped breathing, the Holy Father was dead and with him all of Cesare’s accomplishments. Cesare would survive this but he was nothing now, a repudiated man, all of the lands were returned to their former owners and his worse enemy Giuliano DellaRovere returned to be named Pope.

The last time I saw him I knew he was no longer the same man, he had lost his cautiousness and composure, he was a faded memory of the great man he once was, it was pitiful to witness his fall, after some time he tried to recover what he had but he wasn’t able to, however he received the dead of a soldier, he was killed and betrayed in his final attempt to recover his former glory. Lucrezia wept his death but lived a long life. Honorable gentlemen from Florence; my name is Niccolo Machiavelli and this were the Borgias.

What the Press would say:

“Mario Puzo’s: The Family” adapted from the final works of the author, tells the story of the Borgias, a family whose name is often reminded by greed, corruption, abuse and degradation. The movie follows the rise and fall of this family through Alexander VI papacy. The storyline follows the struggle to establish respect and authority in Italy during a period of intense religious, political, and economic turmoil. Through the story several characters are presented from a ruthless bodyguard played by David Wenham, to a friar played magnificently in a short but memorable performance by Jeremy Irons. However the most important and interesting are the family itself.

First and foremost, a big round of applause to not only Frears for orchestrating this riveting historical trip, but Remi Adefarasin for the evocative cinematography, Alexandra Byrne for the gorgeous costume design, and Guy Dyas for the beautiful production design. They all provided the environment for the movie to work in, and damn if they didn't do jobs worthy of recognition. Voluminous rooms, strategic use of curtains and lighting, and absolutely stunning costume work with the unique camera angles to bring the Vatican of the day to light.

Anyone expecting a typically splendid, in manner and in pace, historical drama will be jolted by Stephen Frear's stylish and fast-paced "historical thriller," in which Rodrigo Borgia’s rise to the papacy and the resulting loss of innocence of his family plays not unlike that of the Corleones in The Godfather. David Franzoni’s, Peter Morgan’s and Michael Hirst's screenplay does not offer any true insight into what made this family tick but is a riveting screenplay, with a masterful study of raw power and Cavill’s and Gambon’s effortlessly commanding figures are extremely fascinating characters.

Cavill offers a magnetic performance, Cesare is a man of few words, but when he speaks the ground practically rumbles, you’re constantly drawn into his rough exterior only to be constantly frustrated by his actions, we watch how he evolves and becomes man filled with hatred and who has lost every thread of hope, Michael Gambon is sublime and enthralling, he manages to be egotistical and cruel, but in some scenes he shows amazing sensibility and vulnerability, in its own way love for his children. This two are just some of a uniformly excellent cast, which also includes Abbie Cornish as Lucrezia Borgia, in a performance that goes from heartbreaking to a subtle and profound study of human emotions and the sense of duty of women in the time. Al Pacino changes his usual explosiveness for a more controlled and calculative performance, every line of dialogue and situation he’s in is perfectly delivered. Cate Blanchett plays Vanozza Catanei, the mother in a very subtle yet powerful performance, demonstrating why she’s the mother of the Pope’s children, Luke Mably shines as the narrator in a magnificent tour de force performance as Machiavelli, and finally the two revelations come from Polly Walker in a role tailored made for her, she’s able to demonstrate her power and intelligence as a frightening woman who takes control of every situation, and the other one is the young Alex Pettyfer who shines in a role that some could see as filling for the story, but he’s able to show a range of emotions in every situation he’s placed on, the tragic scene where he finds his wife dead, all dirty and in terrible conditions, his crying is so effective and his final scene on his father’s dead bead, he’s so cold and unattached of his reality.

The visceral manner in which director Frears deals with his oversized production is worthy of great admiration and respect, the film is largely set in vast, echoing halls, their pillars reaching up into the shadows. He is attentive to the sound of dresses and the banging of armor. The film’s dank interior castle settings create a claustrophobic intensity that underscores the growing sense of paranoia and people’s sinister machinations in this battle for power. It also suggests the rigid social structure of 15th century Italy, with its infighting between the political and religious aristocracy, who viewed people as pawns to be sacrificed for the greater good of the game at hand.

Even if I did not particularly learn anything from it, I was completely engrossed by The Family, which not only makes the traditionally stuffy and aloof costume drama accessible, but entertaining and exciting as well. Even with its running time of almost three hours, this is a fine piece of filmmaking that gives you history but still contains the right elements of sex, intrigue and suspense to keep it from being conventional. Every frame of "The Family" is spellbinding.

For Your Consideration

Best Picture
Best Director – Stephen Frears
Best Adapted Screenplay – Michael Hirst, Peter Morgan & David Franzoni
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Henry Cavill
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Michael Gambon
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Luke Mably
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Al Pacino
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Alex Pettyfer
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Abbie Cornish
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Polly Walker
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Cate Blanchett
And in all categories…

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