Laguna (2001)

What will you do for “family”?

vt Segreti di Famiglia; vt Hotel Laguna; vt Vendetta
UK, Italy, France / 92 minutes / color / Metropolitan, Davis, Caimano, ReteItalia, FDC (Laguna) Dir: Dennis Berry Pr: Augusto Caminito, Samuel Hadida, Alan Latham Scr: Augusto Caminito, Claude Harz, David Linter Story: Augusto Caminito Cine: Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli Cast: Joe Mantegna, Emmanuelle Seigner, Sergio Castellitto, Henry Cavill, Daniela Alviani, Charles Aznavour, Davide Bozzato, Sam Douglas, Gustavo Frigerio, Francesco Fichera, Paolo Paoloni, Karin Proia, Terry Serpico.

Many years ago, when Thomas Aprea (Fichera) was just a child, his father Terenzio (Serpico) was the saxophonist in a musical trio with singer Nicola “Nico” Pianon (Mantegna) and violinist Joe Sollazzo (Castellitto). As we discover much later in the movie, Terenzio soon decided to supplement his musical income by working as a bagman for mobster Tony Castellano (Aznavour)—so-named in the credits but throughout called Tony Castell.

Terry Serpico as Terenzio

Sergio Castellitto as Joe.

Unfortunately, Terenzio then decided to supplement his musical income yet further by skimming a bit off the top. The result was that one day Terenzio’s car blew up, killing Terenzio, his wife and Thomas’s two siblings—Thomas himself escaped solely because he’d run back into the house to fetch a forgotten present. Since then, “Uncle” Joe Sollazzo has raised the boy on his own in New York City, even putting him through college.

Joe Mantegna as Nico.

Now that Thomas (Cavill) has graduated, Joe sends him off to Venice, to be looked after henceforth by the singer of the trio, “Uncle” Nico Pianon, who owns the Hotel Laguna there and can give the young man employment in the “family” business.

Henry Cavill as Thomas.

Thomas knows very little about his childhood beyond that his two “uncles” were musicians with his father; he assumes the car explosion, which he barely remembers, was some kind of ghastly accident. In particular he doesn’t know that mob boss Tony has been keeping an eye on him all these years, concerned that, once Thomas discovers the truth of his family’s death, he’ll seek vengeance—the vendetta of one of the movie’s variant titles. It’s with difficulty that Joe has been persuading the irascible old bastard not just to have the boy knocked off—to tidy up the loose end.

Charles Aznavour as Tony.

And how much are Tony’s promises to leave Thomas alone actually worth? As Joe remarks in different context,

“People like Tony Castell give their word one day, then break it with a bullet in the back the next.”

It comes as something of a shock to those of us who’ve hitherto known Aznavour as only a romantic crooner, with occasional analogous acting parts, to find him here effing and blinding his way through the role. Tony Castell/ano is a character that might very well have been played by someone like Christopher Walken; I had also to keep reminding myself that this was Charles Aznavour I was watching, not Mark Rylance.

Emmanuelle Seigner as Thelma.

The first thing Thomas notices about the Hotel Laguna is Thelma (Seigner), Nico’s wife, who, while evidently a lot younger than Nico, is also a deal older than Thomas. The attraction he feels toward her very rapidly becomes obsessive; from this moment onward the youth is essentially being guided in all his actions by a hormonal compass needle.

To us as outsiders, it’s rather hard to understand where the obsession comes from. Not only is there the age gap—although of course, as the Macrons demonstrate, for many couples an age difference is unimportant (and, anyway, it’s one of society’s more repellent sexisms that we tend to notice these gaps only when it’s the woman who’s the older member of the couple)—but there’s the fact that Thelma’s prettiness is very much of the strict-schoolmarm variety, an effect deliberately maintained by the character (and the moviemakers). Moreover, the hotel’s heart-knottingly lovely maid Giardina (Proia) makes it clear to Thomas fairly early on that she’s there more or less for his asking; I know which course I’d have chosen myself when I was a (fairly typical) twenty-year-old male.

Karin Proia as Giardina.

Thelma’s severity goes well beyond merely skin-deep. Here she is visiting his bedside after a nasty infection has felled him for (we guess) a week or so:

Thelma: “Your fever is almost gone. I was afraid you wouldn’t recover in time—then we would have to hire someone else. The hotel is full. We’re extremely busy. Everyone is working double-shift while you lie in bed.”

Thanks, Auntie Thelma. Of course, we as observers realize that this frequently expressed coldness and callousness toward him has come about because she is repressing a passion that burns every bit as fierily as his. And, in between tongue-lashing him for minor infractions or insisting he work ludicrously onerous shifts, she’s doing quite a lot to intrigue him erotically. There’s the cigarette she asks him to light for her and then, after just a puff or two, gives to him to finish, her lipstick sensually smeared across the filter. (I know: each to their own.) She also moves him from his current room to the attic, which just happens to overlook her and Nico’s bedroom, oh yes.

When Nico tells Thomas he suspects Thelma is having an affair and asks him to follow her around Venice, Thomas clearly finds difficulty knowing how to react—especially when he sees Thelma meeting and embracing a man (Bozzato). Thomas thinks the worst, but hides the information from his “uncle”—wisely, as it proves, for the man is not Thelma’s lover but actually Nico’s doctor, from whom she has been receiving regular clandestine updates about the declining well-being of her outwardly healthy husband . . .

Laguna is generally billed as a gangster/Mafia movie, and of course it does have gangster/Mafia elements in the form of Aznavour’s character and the long-ago assassination of Thomas’s family. But all of those are rather peripheral to the tale, which focuses on the relationship between Thelma, Thomas and Nico in terms not just of secret passion, forbidden temptation, covert glances, the usual, but of the less ostentatious forms of love (Thelma makes no bones about the fact that, despite her carnal attraction to Thomas, she loves her husband deeply, and there’s no question of his love for her), of loyalties, of the emotional ties that transcend indiscretions and human failings. Surprisingly, then, what might have been a crime thriller is instead a very quiet, thoughtful piece, the countless beautifully filmed scenes of Venice providing a perfectly appropriate backdrop to the central characters as, clad in an invisible armor of restraint, they struggle to do what is right amidst the distractions of their own emotions.

Castellitto, Proia, Aznavour and Frigerio (as the hotel’s factotum Adelmo) are, in their various ways, quite terrific in the supporting roles—especially Castellitto as the humble yet profoundly courageous violinist.

Francesco Fichera as the young Thomas.

Gustavo Frigerio as Adelmo.

I assume the reason the movie has garnered so little attention is that people who went to see it expecting a shootemup were disappointed while audiences who might well have enjoyed it thought it was just another shootemup and avoided it. That’s a shame.



4 thoughts on “Laguna (2001)

  1. Great cast. I love Joe Mantegna – he always brings something interesting to a film. I may have to seek this one out, if only to see Charles Aznavour playing a Christopher Walken type!

    • if only to see Charles Aznavour playing a Christopher Walken type

      That was the real standout curiosity for me — to see M. Crooner Romantique soi-meme effing and blinding and being a total vicious bastard with the best of them. I mean, there’s no reason in the slightest he shouldn’t have played such a part; just that it comes as a sort of perceptual shock.

      I hope you have success finding a copy of the movie and, if you do, that you enjoy it.

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