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This has been a favorite film of mine for years, for many reasons. The
setting is a heartbreakingly beautiful island in the Mediterranean, a
distant part of the dying Ottoman Empire. The photography by Roger Deakins
is superbly understated. While its quite spare, lacking the over-detailed
lighting of, say, a Merchant Ivory period-production, it is undeniably
soaked with the warmth and specificity of place, very much an Orientalist
painting (rather like the book). There is an immediacy to the look and feel
of the film which adds to its historical integrity.
The casting is brilliant; all the characters appear sculpturally archetypal. Ben Kingsley is superb as Pascali, inhabiting the doomed, lonely, character completely. His emotional monologue/prayer to the sultan near the beginning and which ends the film are intoned like music. Helen Mirren is perfect as Pascali's friend, muse and as his unattainable virtue, the source of his fevered longing. Charles Dance (who always appears larger than life, even on film) is excellent as the archeological con-man who stumbles over something pure and is trapped by it. Steffan Gryff wields an immortal, cunning profile and along with Nadim Sawalha as the Pasha, behave and look like the Ottoman Empire's corruption made flesh.
The story is a seductive mix; a gorgeous setting blended with serious melancholy, punctuated by a minor adventure and all informed by a clear respect for history. Its a small story (as emotionally guarded stories invariably feel) but its a terrific film.
Pascali has watched, spied and reported his whole life for masters who are doubtless unaware of his existence at all. As this is slowly dawning on him he is suddenly swept up in an minor intrigue which crystalizes all of his wishes and hopes. He sees a chance for personal renewal, but to achieve it he has to overcome instincts developed from a lifetime of deceit in a petty, corrupt outpost of a dying empire.
'Pascali's Island' could have been made specifically by and for the
Greek tourism bureau. The cinematography is so utterly gorgeous as to
make this film self-recommending. If you are an addict of the Greek
Isles then this film is a must-have for those long winter- evenings in
the upper Midwest, or where-ever your winters are spent, when you need
to see shimmering Dodecanese seas and opalescent sunrises and dazzling,
golden sunsets. The views of the azure sea set between the white-washed
houses on Symi and Rhodes, where this film was shot, are enough to make
one give up the unequal battle and retire immediately to some
beach-shack on one of those stunning islands.
Added to the glorious photography is an especially beautiful score by Loek Dikker, a very fine composer who first came to attention with Verhoeven's early film 'The 4th Man'.
Moving beyond the travelogue attractions of this film there is the under-stated and touching romance of the character of Basil Pascali, wonderfully embodied by Ben Kingsley in what could be his finest work since 'Gandhi'. His is a sad little character, acting as a spy for the last Ottoman Emperor in the dying days of that great Empire. The Greeks are about to reclaim their land and Basil is facing a dark future, until Charles Dance happens on the scene. Any further comment on their activities would spoil your first-time viewing so I'll stop. Dance is very good, as is Helen Mirren as the beautiful and decadent Viennese artist who is Basil's old pal and Dance's new love.
'Pascali's Island' is a subtle film, not for boys night out or the kids on a Saturday night. It's a thinking film set in a glittering location that creates a very pleasant marriage between eye and mind. Not so common a thing in the flicks these days when you come to think about it. That alone makes this repeatable viewing.
Highly recommended, especially to Ben Kingsley, Helen Mirren, Charles Dance and Greek Island fans.
As schoolchildren we hear the terms World War "I" and "II" -- and then spend the rest of our lives learning why it was called WORLD war. The story is set in the Aegean on the eve of World War I when so many nations lusted to flash their sabers and sound their canons. Ben Kingsley brilliantly plays "Pascali," a bottom-ranking spy for the Ottoman Empire that, after reigning for 900 years, is about to be annihilated by the war. The name "Pascali" is a reference to Judeo-Christian symbols of the paschal lamb, passover, and so forth, and the story incorporates the encounter between Muslim Turkey and the Greek Orthodox Church. Pascali longs for the attention of expatriate Lydia (Helen Mirren) who, being an Austrian, represents the impending war's crushing of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well. Into the lazy sun drenched intrigue of Pacali's Greek island steps one Antony Bowles (a most poished Charles Dance). A failed archeologist turned world-traveling swindler-sophisticate, Bowles, in classic Anglic fashion, plays the Turks and Germans against one another. (The only thing missing, in terms of dynasties the "Great War" destroyed, is a reference to the Romanovs! But then, actress Helen Mirren is of Russian descent...hmmm.) Even the Americans are involved as distantly glimpsed (for they would not enter the war until 1917) arms merchants. Lest this all seem like a pretentious amount of historical intricacy, "Pacali's Island" is a modest set piece about a handful of people whose gods have deserted them or never heard their plaintive worshipping in the first place. The blinding glare of the Greek Islands is artistically wrapped like bleached gauze around a mood of sweat-and-ouzo-soaked melancholy. Mature, intelligent, and sensitive, this one requires the viewer to be wide awake. View it perhaps on a Sunday morning while the coffee is fresh. Take from it the line (that means nothing out of the movie's context)"The error of their ways." Quality film making!
There's nothing wrong with this film. Everything in it works. The story, one of frustration experienced by the principle character, the one and only Sir Ben Kingsley in the title role, playing a rather inept informant in an incompetent political system, the Ottoman Empire, in the days before the "Great War," WW1, is solid and poignant. The presence of supporting actors like Charles Dance and Helen Mirren, both great Brit actors round off a delightful movie that is worth seeing again and again.
I watched this movie with a great pleasure. In fact, as a Turk, I
didn't feel degraded or insulted even though the Turkish pasha and
other Turkish characters are presented as a narrow-minded members of a
decayed political system. Because, it was not totally wrong.
Ottoman Empire, named as sick-man by European politicians, was just a few step away from death. During that time, it was fighting in several fronts, trying to deal with threats against him, but no luck, death was inevitable. Pascali's loyalty worth appreciation, but as the movie showed us, there was no such an authority to honor him.
This is a great historical movie having perfect psychological and historical references, and every single person who enrolled must be appreciated...
In a finely-crafted and beautifully filmed story, three people meet who are engaged in deceptions of different sorts. Each one is acting in secret, yet all three find themselves thrust into the very center of their deceptions by ironic twists. Each fences with the other romantically, yet the most cynical actually fall in love. Excellent performances by Kingsley, Charles Dance and Helen Mirren, three of England's most talented and versatile actors. Exotic scenery sets the stage for a variety of passions, schemes and deceits. Mirren and Dance are spectacular, in the love scenes especially, but Ben Kingsley dominates this film. His dark eyes mirror dwindling hope in his sultan's dying world and his hopeless love for an untouchable, unreachable foreigner.
Beautifully acted, wonderfully realized, full of sensual details & the sort of behavioral, moral, political, historical nuances you'll never ever find in american films. Gorgeous to view & review again & again.
Pascali's Island takes place in 1908 on a Greek Island still in the possession of the decaying Ottoman Empire. This movie gave a very strong sense of place and time. It concerns three principal characters; Basil Pascali(Kingsley)--a spy for the Sultan, an English adventurer/swindler(Dance), and an artistic free-spirit(Mirren). In the end it is the story of three middle-aged people who had led lives of disappointment thus far. In the film their lives become intertwined at a critical moment for all of them. Although the film is small in scope the historical period of impending change in which it takes place underscores the longing in each of the characters to find more purpose in their lives. The story is built around Pascali's dilemma: Does he remain faithful to the Sultan who has been the center of his life so far, but who has never even acknowledged him, or does he take a chance with two people who he has come to care for, but cannot trust? The subtle but rich way in which Ben Kingsley portrays Pascali in his dilemma is very moving. Lastly, the music and over all mood created for this multi-layered and thoughtful film are perfect.
The writer responsible for the schlock-shocker 'Fatal Attraction' takes an altogether different approach for his own turn as director, in an old-fashioned, anachronistic bit of foreign intrigue set on a small Aegean island during the last desperate days of the Ottoman Empire. Among the film's many virtues is one neglected in recent years: it actually tells a story, with a rich sense of time and place to help bring it vividly to life. Ben Kingsley is superb in the title role, playing a petty informer on an inconsequential outpost in the Sultan's crumbling empire, who becomes caught in the plots of various foreigners seeking adventure and opportunity during the heady, treacherous years just prior to World War One. The expatriates involved in his inevitable downfall (a metaphor, perhaps, for colonial politics at he time) include a beautiful Viennese aristocrat and a roving English archaeologist out to swindle the local Pasha. The story is simple, subdues and potent, with some unusually literate skullduggery making it a modest but memorable drama of trust and betrayal.
A wonderful lesson in the art of trust, set in an equally wonderful Greek landscape. All performances are subtle yet interesting. Charles Dance is a very convincing cad in the old English tradition, while Ben Kingsly plays a faithful spy beginning to question that faith and his uncertain future. Helen Mirren is cast as an artist with sympathies for the Greek resistance movement fighting the Ottoman administration on the island. Cinematography is excellent with some enticing scenes of a perfect Greek Island town. Though the movie tackles some thought provoking themes of jealousy, trust and fear of betrayal it also works as low key thriller. A great pity this movie is not available on DVD.
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