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The Name of the Rose (1986)


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I heard the novel by Umberto Eco mentioned last week during a podcast interview with a linguist and I thought, any story that features Aristotle's lost second book of Poetics on comedy as the MacGuffin,  I want to know. I found a second-hand DVD of the 1986 film, but not the novel, at the used bookstore yesterday and I just watched it. 

 

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I read a little about it beforehand, being careful not to read too much. I read for instance that the director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, spent a lot of time looking for "a multi-ethnic cast with interesting and distinctive faces" (Wiki), and that he was hesitant to cast Sean Connery since his character was "already an amalgam of William of Ockham and Sherlock Holmes" and tossing 007 into the mix seemed too much. 

Annaud certainly found some interesting-looking actors, even before giving them 14th century Franciscan haircuts. Lynn Stalmaster is credited for the casting but Tod Browning came to my mind more than once. He may have overdone it.

Connery's character, William of Baskerville, is an obvious enough reference to Holmes, but when at one point he uses the term "elementary" while explaining a bit of deduction to Adso, his Watson, played by Christian Slater, well, you can forget any hopes you may have had for hearing any polished pseudo 14th century dialogue. But. Alright. Like Rathbone, Connery gets off some good ones along the way.

The sets more than once put me in a mood to see a good production of MacBeth, and just when I was thinking how horrible life in a 1320s monastery would be, surrounded by ugly monks and forbidden to even try to crack a joke, a girl appeared, played by Chilean actress Valentina Vargas, and much to Adso's delight. Poor and hungry and filthy though she was, still she brought a certain unnameable beauty into Adso's life.

 

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I know very little of the medieval church and I wonder if the depiction of the Franciscans isn't a little heavy-handed. Certainly F. Murray Abraham's portrayal of the dreaded Inquisitor would give church haters enough to point to and say, "See? That's what I'm talking about! Nothing has changed!" The living conditions of the poor who live outside of the abbey is well rendered, and at times wince-inducing. Underlying the murder mystery is the debate in the church about poverty and wealth, and whether, as the heretical Dulcinites believed, the clergy should live in poverty.

Ultimately this is a stylish murder mystery with enough twists to keep things moving, even if, like me, you may have trouble keeping the foreign names and strange faces distinct. When William discovers the secret library and it's treasures, I did feel with him a sense of wonder. The preparations for the burning at the stake of the heretics was truly ghastly and here I found new respect for Ron Perlman's talent for his portrayal of the addle-minded hunchback Salvatore, who lives at the abbey under the protection of Remigio, the keeper of the food cellar. Salvatore ultimately displays a very deep and comforting faith, just as Remigio shows an admirably defiant one.

 

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Narration is provided at the beginning and the end by Adso, who has, we learn, lived to be an old, old man, and who regrets nothing. I watched with my sister and hearing his closing words over the final scene moved us both to the point where I was happy to have had a box of tissues at-hand. She missed, due to her emotional reaction I think, the revealed meaning of the title but I caught it and I wonder if, like "Rosebud" there are those who come away asking, "What about the rose?"

 

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