A Sony Classics release. Drama. Rated R for depiction of adult themes and sexuality. Running time: 110 min.
A sort of castrato and sibling-rivalry variant on Amadeus, this 18th-century true story follows the lives of two brothers: the composer Riccardo Broschi (Enrico Lo Verso) and his younger brother Carlo (Stefano Dionisi), who was castrated without his consent before puberty to maintain his heavenly voice. As grown men, the two share everything, including their music-Carlo sings what Riccardo writes-and their women-Carlo stimulates them and Riccardo plants the seed. Taking the stage name Farinelli, Carlo gains great acclaim, his sublime voice carrying his royal and noble listeners into rapture. A rift eventually grows between the two siblings, less due to the efforts by the composer Handel (Jeroen Krabbe) to have Farinelli sing his music than to Carlo's unslakable anguish over his castration-and his anger at his older brother for allowing it.
This separation is nicely symbolized by their rivalry over the one woman (an evocative Elsa Zylberstein) who Carlo doesn't want to share but for whom he can't be a complete man (i.e., impregnate her). But the narrative as a whole stutter-steps through its quarter-century span, which might be due in part to four different types of story credit being shared among five writers. Other symbolism, especially that of Carlo's nightmare about a white horse, seems forced. A crucial difficulty is that Farinelli's singing (actually a blend of two vocalists) seems recorded: Dionisi's lip movements aren't always in sync, and that singing's aural qualities (save for one scene) are oddly the same whether he's performing inside or outside.
Along with Zylberstein, Dionisi and Lo Verso redeem Farinelli with fine performances. As the fragile and suffering Carlo, Dionisi is suitably overheated, and Lo Verso makes for a fiercely affectionate brother.-Kim Williamson