In 1916, laconic adventurer Corto Maltese is in Paramaribo, Surinam visiting his mystic female friend Java. He helps a young heir haunted by voodoo spirits, delivers some weapons to rebels in Brazil and hunts for treasure with Rasputin.
In 1915, laconic adventurer and former ship captain Corto Maltese, a popular European comic book character, is in war-torn Europe. During WWI, he visits four historical locations - Venice, Caporetto, Stonehenge and Vaux-sur-Somme.
In 1921, laconic adventurer Corto Maltese is in Turkey where several armed factions fight for control. He finds a map to a lost Persian treasure there. He'll need his friend Rasputin who's in Samarkand prison run by Corto's double.
In 1918, civil wars are tearing Russia and China apart. Laconic adventurer Corto Maltese is hired by a Chinese secret society to capture a train that's taking Tzar's gold abroad. His friend Rasputin joins him, but only hell awaits them.
In 1913, laconic sea captain Corto Maltese, adrift in the Pacific, gets rescued by his bandit friend Rasputin who's taking two rich shipwrecked teens to an island where his boss the Monk will hold them for ransom. WWI complicates things.
David Le Rheun
In 1916, laconic adventurer Corto Maltese is taking a siesta in Paramaribo, the capital of Dutch colony of Suriname. He's also seeing some old friends there. Golden Mouth, a legendary local friendly mystical 200-year-old voodoo medium who looks like a beautiful young woman asks him to help Tristan, a young confused teenage gentleman who's been led to her by voodoo spirits who's been haunting him ever since he inherited the controlling interest in his father's company. The other big shareholder, a sleazy lawyer, wants the company for himself, even if he has to kill Tristan to get it, and the spirits can't let that happen for reasons of their own. Professor Jeremiah Steiner, once brilliant scholar and now a local drunk has-been who Corto saves from local thugs, befriends Corto and offers his help in deciphering a mysterious map left to Tristan by his secretive father that mentions the Aztec gods, a gate and the fictional lost continent of Mu. Golden Mouth also hires Corto to take a ...
Circa 2002, several French and Italian production companies and TV channels joined forces to create an animated series of shorts and features based on the adventures of popular Italian comic book character Corto Maltese, a laconic adventurer and former sea captain who in 1910s and 1920s travels Europe and its colonies, as well as the rest of the world, and witnesses first hand the many horrors and atrocities that the brutal bloody history of the early 20th century had to offer, from World War I to various civil wars, communist revolutions and other rebellions. This is why the comic book was (and still is) very popular in Europe, but is virtually unknown in the US.
His stories usually have a basic formula - Corto is hired, convinced or has reasons of his own to go to a certain exotic location where treasure, people or mystery await, but gets caught up in local infighting on the way there and becomes a witness to history. With the help from the people he meets along the way, he eventually reaches his goal, only to discover that the trip was more interesting than the destination.
Corto himself is a nice, trustworthy, tall, thin, slick, charming man with a very sentimental and laconic view of life, who easily makes friends and can handle himself in most fights, although on occasion he does act brash and bites off more than he can chew. Corto has no problems with violence or killing when deemed necessary, but he is disturbed by death and pain of the innocents. He often tries to help those oppressed or in need he meets on his journeys, which often gets him into serious trouble. However, he never fights lost battles and has a distinctive sense of self-preservation, as well as lots of acquaintances and luck. The ladies are often attracted to his charm, attitude and willingness to take action, but also to his slight naiveté that sometimes they and even some of his temporary allies try to take advantage of. However, Corto is no James Bond and while he often cares about his female companions in a platonic way, he rarely beds the girl, unless he's actually interested in her.
One could call him the European Indiana Jones, although Corto, as a fan of poetry and art, has only superficial knowledge of archeology, kills somewhat more indiscriminatingly, often waxes poetic and his world is much more adult, dramatic and darker than Indy's with little to no magical, fantastical or sci-fi elements.
Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn is the first entry in his animated franchise and is based on his eponymous comic book adventure. However, this becomes a problem, since in the comic, the adventure is a collection of short stories and doesn't work as well when presented as a single narrative. That makes the movie feel more like an anthology than a single complex adventure. The ending especially suffers because of this when a huge event that's alluded to (the discovery of the fictional lost continent of Mu) never happens. This lack of focus on a single narrative will be resolved more successfully in later sequels, but here, it's an issue.
The setting of his adventure(s) this time is South America. In 1916, Corto is in Surinam where he's asked by a supernaturally old female voodoo mystic to chaperon a confused young man called Tristan whose troubles started when he inherited the majority share in his father's company. The other shareholder wants him dead and voodoo spirits who need him and the company for reasons of their own haunt him. Corto also gets entangled in a peasant rebellion in Northern Brazil, and in 1917, he goes on an ill-prepared treasure hunt with traitorous Rasputin and a female friend.
Most of Corto's adventures are like a cross between an old b&w Hollywood epic adventure combined with the sensibilities of a serious historian. Although Corto's feats may seem ridiculous at times, the locations he visits and the events he witnesses are presented in a highly atmospheric, quite brutal and often realistic way with a touch of comical, while the slow depressing intensity of the adventure never dissipates. The stylistic brooding conservative art design is quite atmospheric, very faithful to the comic and the animation looks less cheep than it is. You'd never guess the films were partially animated in North Korea (no joke). However, this film is not very broody at all because the beach and jungle locations are much easier on the eyes and the story is too loose to hold tension.
A common problem with Corto's franchise is pacing. Some less relevant moments will be covered in detail (like the almost completely irrelevant revelation that Tristan has a stepsister), while other more important ones (like the ending) will be simply brushed over. Secondly, the tone is sometimes off, mostly because of Corto's friend Rasputin who sometimes serves as the comical relief in these adventures, but often acts completely amoral, if not straight up evil, even to the point of openly threatening Corto's life, yet somehow they still always manage to make peace and remain friends. This guy makes Corto, who's more or less a moral man, seem like a hypocrite.
In the end, this is a passable, if pretty average adventure for Corto, but it's not a bad introduction to the character, although it's also in no way the core of what Corto Maltese intense experience is.
The movie is available on DVD in Europe and has optional English subtitles, so folks from the US can import it. You can also get "Corto Maltese - Collector's Edition" that's in English and contains all of Corto's animated adventures.
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