'The Music of Silence': Film Review

Strictly for ardent Bocelli fans.

Toby Sebastian plays a thinly disguised Andrea Bocelli in Michael Radford's biopic based on the opera singer's autobiographical novel.

Andrea Bocelli fans (and there are plenty of them, God knows) will probably adore Michael Radford's hagiographical biopic about the famed blind tenor. But much as serious opera lovers know that Bocelli's talents aren't all they're cracked up to be, discerning viewers will recognize The Music of Silence for the tediously sentimental, rote exercise that it is. It's the cinematic equivalent of listening to opera in an elevator.

The film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Bocelli, which no doubt accounts for its endlessly self-regarding tendencies. The central character, dubbed "Amos Bardi" (Tony Sebastian, Game of Thrones), is a singer who constantly prompts awestruck listeners to make such proclamations as "I don't think in my life I've heard anything like that!" And every woman who lays eyes on Amos rhapsodizes about how handsome he is.

After an opening sequence depicting Bardi going onstage in front of an adoring audience, the story flashes back to his 1938 birth in Tuscany, with his joyous father shouting, "It's a boy!" It soon becomes apparent that there's a problem with Amos, who doesn't stop crying. He's diagnosed with congenital glaucoma, able to see only shapes. Years later, an accident in which he's hit in the face with a soccer ball leaves him totally blind.

Amos' vocal talents are recognized by a teacher when he's just a child and he's soon amazing family members and friends with renditions of, what else, "O Sole Mio." But his budding musical career becomes threatened when his voice changes and he falters while attempting to sing "Ave Maria" at a wedding reception. He attends law school instead and spends years singing anonymously at a piano bar.

It isn't until he's introduced to a character referred to only as "The Maestro" (Antonio Banderas) that Amos' talents become fully realized. Not surprising, considering that the intimidating maestro asks Amos questions on the order of "Are you ready to make music your only reason to live?" He also counsels Amos, "The music of silence will be your guide through the interior of yourself." If he only talked backwards, The Maestro would sound an awful lot like Yoda.

Along the way, Amos meets, falls in love with and marries a beautiful woman, Elena (Nadir Caselli), although their relationship nearly doesn't come to pass because he fails to realize that the phone number she's written on his hand belongs to her sister's business and he assumes it's fake. They run into each other not long afterwards, so everything turns out ok. That should give you an indication of the film's idea of narrative tension.

Plodding along in uncompelling fashion from one familiar-feeling episode to the next, The Music of Silence is the sort of hopelessly old-fashioned biographical drama that makes the same director's treacly Il Postino seem edgy by comparison. The film certainly looks pretty, thanks to the gorgeous Tuscan locations, but it's scant compensation for the fuzzy storytelling and bland performances. It doesn't help that most of the supporting players are Italian and obviously struggling with the English dialogue.  

Not until Banderas arrives late in the proceedings does the film show any sign of life, however artificial. Employing his estimable charisma and infusing just enough subtle humor into his line readings to let the audience know that he's in on the joke, the actor makes you wish the movie was all about him.

Production company: Picomedi
Distributor: AMBI Distribution
Cast: Toby Sebastian, Luis Ranieri, Jordi Molia, Ennio Fantasticini, Antonio Banderas, Nadir Caselli
Director: Michael Radford
Screenwriters: Michael Radford, Anna Pavignano

Producers: Monika Bacardi, Andrea Iervolino, Motaz M. Nabulsi, Roberto Sessa
Executive producers: Gaetano Daniele, Oscar Generale, Stefano Scozzese, Joshua Skurla

Director of photography: Stefano Falivene
Production designer: Francesco Frigeri

Editor: Roberto Missiroli
Costume designer: Paola Marchesin

Composer: Gabriele Roberto
Casting: Maria D'Elia, Sharon Howard-Field

115 minutes