Ashes and Blood -- Film Review

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TAORMINA, Italy -- Fanny Ardant's directorial debut, "Ashes and Blood," is intended as Greek tragedy but is more soap opera in its story of cyclical violence and blood ties. Ardant's name will draw audiences curious to see her pass behind the camera but the film will struggle outside of festivals to find wide releases.

Ardant sets the action in a rural no-man's land, an unspecified country whose inhabitants speak a blend of languages, including Romanian, French and Hungarian. Judith (Ronit Elkabetz) returns with her children from Marseilles to attend her husband's sister's wedding, 10 years after her husband was murdered in a vendetta killing (in an opening sequence that looks like a black and white Armani commercial).

Although the offspring know nothing of the clan's mafia-like tendencies, the eldest, volatile son (Abraham Belaga) is soon dragged into a violence based on centuries of the local ruling families stealing from and killing one another. All this in the name of family, honor and pride, in a world in which the men are men and the women kept under control.

The matriarchal don's daughter is marrying into another powerful family, run by a rival patriarch. Yet this union of love and convenience is not enough to prevent either ashes or blood from being spilled.

Ardant's story is universal but insular: Characters talk about violence when not doling it out or being subjected to it with little additional insight. Some continue doing that which they know will get them killed out of love, lust or quick tempers while others seek bloodthirsty vengeance for the sake of bloodthirsty vengeance.

This Greek tragedy is filmed well, the cinematography and editing giving us something nice to look at, but the film lacks originality despite the invented language and rituals. Despite a female protagonist, the only tone here is of poetic machismo, a not very convincing combination.

While the staple of mafia movies is the honor and nobility of grown men settling scores with fists and guns, Ardant would have done better than to infuse the dialogue with self-reflexive lines about the nature of violence that are hard to imagine any "man's man" uttering.

Venue: Taormina Film Festival in Sicily
Production companies: Alfama Films Production, Libra Film, Clap Filmes
Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Abraham Belaga
Director/screenwriter: Fanny Ardant
Producers: Paolo Branco, Tudor Giurgiu
Director of photography: Gerard De Battista
Production designer: Isabel Branco
Music: David Moreau
Editor: Celia Lafitedupont
Sales: Alfama Films Production
No rating, 96 minutes