Directed with a rigorous attention to detail and imbued with a stately yet unsettling visual atmosphere, OPEN DOORS is such a one-sided condemnation of capital punishment, at the expense of character delineation, that its impact is blunted despite its many virtues.
Based on Leonardo Sciascia's 1937 novel, this didactic period piece gets off to a stunning start. A bureaucrat, Tommaso Scalia (Ennio Fantastichini) slays the superior who fired him, then kills the official who replaced him, before raping and slaughtering his wife Rosa (Vitalba Andrea). Exhausted
by the triple homicide, Scalia fixes his young son a meal and then calmly lies down on the bed and awaits the police. Appalled by his crimes, the fascist government prepares for a quick trial and conviction. Loyal to his country, Scalia resignedly welcomes his fate. Yet, one member of his
tribunal, Judge Vito Di Francesco (Gian Maria Volonte) is transfixed by the ramifications of this case.
Opposed to the death penalty on principle, Di Francesco calls the entire judicial process into question as he obsessively stalls for time. Requesting expert testimony and grilling witnesses that seem tangential to his case, Di Francesco risks the ire of the State and jeopardizes his career.
Despite warnings from the other judges and pressure from his own family and truculence from the accused himself, he pursues his objective--to spotlight the injustice inherent in the death penalty. In the end, an unlikely ally, a well-read peasant named Consolo (Renato Carpentieri), casts the sole
vote for life imprisonment. Even though the murderer remains unrepentant and even though a complicated web of political corruption and pandering his wife's sexual favors surfaces during the proceedings, Scalia's life is spared.
Still, Judge Di Francesco's victory turns out to be a pyrrhic one. Reassigned to the provinces as a punishment, he is dismayed when Scalia's case is retried. This time, Scalia is sentenced to death--a verdict acceptable to the guilty party and to the State, but not to the life-affirming judge.
In many respects, this elegant, somber-looking agit-prop is a meritorious enterprise, but it is an "idea" film whose impassioned indictment eventually overwhelms its dramatic content and diminishes our involvement. Kept at a distance by the director's frigidity, OPEN DOORS plays like a restrained
debate that never flares up enough to excite us or incite us. Methodical at all times, the movie beats the issue of capital punishment over the head and brandishes this noble cause like a banner. Yet it's never febrile in its passion, and that reticence quickly breeds boredom in the audience.
Despite the arresting visual style that evokes a sunny but dark-souled Sicily of the 30s, the film is too determined to shut us out. Interestingly, Gianni Amelio shapes his directing style to mirror the judge's view, i.e., a deliberate poking and prodding of the issues. But a careful inquiry into
facts matched by directorial remoteness proves to be an unfortunate combination. Clearly we're meant to be driven along slowly on a wave of persuasive doubts and arguments, but this propaganda doesn't allow us to think for ourselves. Nor is the irony of Scalia's position in accepting punishment a
satisfactory replacement for meaty drama--resignation is a static worldview, after all. If only the film hadn't been so afraid to touch us, it would have been a multi-leveled achievement instead of an academic treatise.
Only on sporadic occasions, does OPEN DOORS go beyond subtly challenging our perspective and actually try to move us. In addition to the jolting prologue of the triple murders, the film also surpasses its self-imposed limitations in a haunting scene in which Judge Di Francesco visits the
assassin's little boy in a lock-up for wards of the state. As the child stares at the Judge, Di Francesco is reminded of his daughter who is about the same age. Not only does this chilling scene serve as an argument against the death penalty, but also it works on an emotional level as we respond
to this child deprived of his father, this child who is also a victim of his father's evil.
Remote in its impact and grimly determined in its style, OPEN DOORS does feature a superb performance from Volonte, who has the difficult task of conveying the judge's inner quest. With its memorable cinematography and mesmerizing lead performance, one wishes the film didn't ultimately
disappoint. As evocative as it is, it never connects with the audience. A plea for tolerance for the already initiated, it will not cause those with conflicting views on the death penalty to question their opinion. (Violence, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: Directed with a rigorous attention to detail and imbued with a stately yet unsettling visual atmosphere, OPEN DOORS is such a one-sided condemnation of capital punishment, at the expense of character delineation, that its impact is blunted despite its many… (more)