Who saw The Sicilian (1987)? More to the point, which of the casting directors of The Sicilian saw Barbara Sukowa in Lola and decided to drag her into its hell, and endanger whatever likely career she may have had? The Sicilian is a hard film to watch, especially for an admirer of Barbara Sukowa. What The Sicilian proves is a prime example of Hollywood at work overseas —spotting somebody’s star quality and in attempting to harness it, the movie ends up trampling all over it and going for the nudity...
What is it like watching The Sicilian? Here are the basics: The nudity is gratuitous; and Christopher Lambert was becoming so handsome at this point that his face seems to be imploding. The result of this is that Christopher Lambert’s eyes are been drawn together to make him cross eyed, almost as if there was a black hole developing above his nose and sucking them both in, like two suns.
If you know the pedigree of The Sicilian then you may agree with me here: Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE is by far his best work; THE DEER HUNTER lost its power ages ago and the problem by this point, although obviously nobody could see it at the time, was that in 1987 when The Sicilian was made, it was up against Merchant Ivory which did this sort of thing far, far better.
Good as HEAVEN’S GATE is (“EH!?” many people will say. “Four hours of Jeff Bridges?”) it isn’t good for the reasons that Cimino must have believed. HEAVEN’S GATE wasn’t good because Cimino spent millions making authentic era costumes, instruments, buildings and props. It’s also not good because Cimino waited endlessly and expensively for certain meteorological conditions. Heaven’s Gate does however have a good script and is very well acted, throughout. Also in The Sicilian, Cimino is inadvertently, or obviously pitting himself against Francis Ford Coppola, who, wack as he may be, can’t be beaten when it comes to adapting Mario Puzo.
Christopher Lambert in The Sicilian is also rather bantam weight compared to the rest of the cast; but he was a bantam riding very high at that time. Sukowa was later to encounter 90s bantam Kneau Reeves, in Johnny Mnenomic — and I don’t know if she honestly encountered him, as thery’re never in the same scenes.
One thing you are never thinking watching Lola is how pretty Barbara Sukowa is, because she is acting so fully and there is so much going on; so to see her presented just as pretty, and as nude pretty is annoying. The Sicilian opens with a Sukowa striptease (the very last thing a Fassbinder fan would be expecting) and there is nothing much else beyond that, other than her lying around ona lot of expensive pillows.
It was perhaps on The Sicilian that Sukowa met John Turturro, who employed her when he made his directorial debut ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES. It’s true that the life of a character actor in Europe is better than that of one in America, and this is because there is much more independent cinema on the continent and in Britain. There is not an American TV show you have heard of, for example, that John Saxon has not appeared in (OK: Star Trek); but any European equivalent character actor will always have lots of what they call arthouse experience; except it’s not called arthouse; it should be called generally-quite-normal-cinema house – all the art part refers to is more freedom to the producers and directors in terms of artistsic expression, and not cash-return expression; generally to the good.
I am disturbed that Sukowa says she is American twice; ‘very’ American one time. The studdish way that Lambert looks at her is probably supposed to translate to the audience. Cimino might have seen Lola and he might have seen much less Fassbinder than he saw Sukowa.
In The Sicilian Barbara Sukowa is supposed to play this 80s bitch; but I don’t think it’s a good part. It is difficult to maintain interest in any of the film really, let alone facts about the Lambert character and this rubs off on everybody else. Joss Ackland is busy perfecting riffs that had already paid off in and would finally pay off in films including Lethal Weapon 2; he has a reasonably good scene with Sukowa (in which he reminds her she is American, in case anyone is still trying to figure out if it’s just bad dubbing – bad dubbing at this level is a demon art). Sukowa should really have excelled in this scene crowned by her flinging her drink on him — but somehow everything good in this film is just swamped.
If you like Michael Cimino and think The Deer Hunter is the best thing ever, you must still consider that Cimino was one of these directors who believed that actors were clay in his hands, and all participants in his own personal vision. It’s hard to argue that the reason this might be a failure is Michael Cimino, but it is. And how odd that Cimino’s only true crowning master work, Heaven’s Gate, for reasons of commercial shame, is considered an actual failure — that’s just perverse.
Check out John Turturro’s jumper in the mountain scene (about an hour in) it also returns in an office scene with Joss Ackland. And talking of horrible there is a peasant’s singing ‘In the Mood’ by Glenn Miller on a mountain side that is just as ugly.
Of all the Cimino films I have seen this is by away and far the most disappointing. Long swathes pass that fail to interest. Borrowings and laziness are on display. Braabra Sukowa is beautiful, but you would pushed to even know her character’s name by the end of The Sicilian; she says so little, does so little other than pout. Cimino’s cancer actually got worse from here.
If you think Barbara Sukowa is wasted in THE SICILIAN, you’ll laugh your head off when you see Terrence Stamp. I have no idea of the point of this. As an actor I imagine Stamp wishes to act. But does he have a clause saying ‘Mr Stamp only wishes to appear on camera five minutes in every hour of film?’ Like Ackland and Sukowa, Terrence Stamp gets his set piece acting seminar with the Sicilian himself, Lambert; theirs on what looks like PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK;.
I usually enjoy Terrence Stamp but it is hard for me to be interested in this scene. It is what is known in the territories as a low-point and the point at which many people leave the cinema. You can tell this because it’s followed immediately by the film’s silliest sucker punch, a crap priest crucifixion. It’s amazingly enough to get you to sit down again; although in earnest the crap priest crucifixion is when everyone should leave the cinema.
When the violence does come in this film, you even see that the master Cimino has lost his touch! If it takes an hour or a minute, your director needs to get you to care about the people being done in, then presumably you can get on with the mechanics of doing it. Nil points in this department; even in THE DEER HUNTER this basic melo-drama-violent effect was achieved every time someone was slaughtered in a genius-fest of skilled acting and effects.
I don’t remember anybody going to see The Sicilian in 1987, maybe some people did; but everything about it feels like a huge failing on the director and producer’s part. Oops, same person; Cimino. Well Cimino, you are still great. The fact that you have shot Sukowa makes it so!