Film Review: Bel Canto Dir: Paul Weitz

Starring: Julianne Moore, Ken Watanabe, Sebastian Koch, Christopher Lambert

Is Bel Canto a hostage crisis film, a romance or a musical? Well, it’s a little of all three.

Bel Canto takes place in an unnamed South America country where a group of businessmen and diplomate are gathered for a private concert by world-famous soprano Roxanne Coss (Julianne Moore)…the most prominent of the guests being Japanese business mogul Mr. Hosokowa (Ken Watanabe).

But as the singer sings her song (vocals provided by opera superstar Renee Fleming), a group of armed guerrilla rebels bust into the concert hall taking all hostage.

What results is a lengthy standoff…we’re talking months…giving celebrities, diplomates and rebels plenty of time to get to know each other, often in quite intimate ways.

To me this felt like an update, extended version of the 1970’s classic Dog Day Afternoon. And like that Sidney Lumet thriller, Bel Canto has its roots in a real event…the 1996 Peruvian hostage crisis that lasted for four months.

While that four month siege must have felt unbearable for the real-life hostages, unfortunately some of that same feeling creeps into this film.

Granted the performance by Moore, Watanabe, et al are top notch, but the script, written by director Weitz and Anthony Weintraub is over ambitious and needed to be focussed on its central characters.

Still, the aspects of class and culture are admirably addressed and there are some moments of genuine tension and passion.

With so many people of different cultures, backgrounds and political leanings forced to live together for such an extended period and with music as a central theme, Bel Canto is worth watching. But some tidy editing in the script could have made this a modern day Dog Day Afternoon.

At least it’s not a dog.

Marty Duda

Bel Canto opens July 23rd in New Zealand