"Il giovane favoloso" by Mario Martone
January 21, 2016
What a rare, happy occasion: 180 years after his death, a genius among poets and philosophers is granted a worthy portraitist and "interlocutor" in the film trade. Moreover, a biographical film from the year 2014 proves equal to the task of depicting the life and work of a 19th century man in a more intense, plausible and refined manner than is common among films about our own contemporaries. What good fortune then, that Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), the titular "giovane favoloso" who died at the foot of Vesuvius, crossed paths with the great Neapolitan filmmaker Mario Martone (*1959) last year.
Recipient of numerous prizes at the Venice Mostra and the National Film Awards, Il giovane favoloso (Leopardi) has so far – as is the case with almost all of Martone's work – hardly been seen outside Italy. This may have to do with the fact that Leopardi's oeuvre, routinely filed away under "world literature", first needs to be read anew in this world of ours. Which is exactly what Martone’s film implicitly urges us to do – it sets the protagonist's existence, molded by parental and societal constraints, financial difficulties, disease and unrequited love, against all the enthusiasm that novelistic cinema is capable of: wit and narrative cleverness, richness of detail and visual beauty of a most elegant kind (Renato Berta serves as the DP), and a lead actor (Elio Germano) who places Leopardi's "inner glow" at the heart of his performance, fully transcending the physical decline of his character.