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Germany/Italy/France 1986
Directed by
Jean-Jacques Annaud
130 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Name Of The Rose

Renowned English Franciscan monk, Brother William of Baskerville arrives at a remote abbey in the north of Italy in 1327 with his apprentice, Adso of Melk (Christian Slater) to solve the mystery of a suspicious death that has occurred. During the course of his investigation several more monks wind up dead  and Inquisitor Bernardo Gui  (F. Murray Abraham), a long term adversary to William and his rational methods, arrives to root out the devil’s work .

The French usually do the medieval period well and director Jean-Jacques Annaud had a particular interest in the era, prepping the film for five years.  The result, however, a German, Italian, French co-production in English  is a tiring slog, big on staging but light on dramatic substance. In a way this is understandable as the film is an adaptation or, as we are told in the opening credits, a “palimpsest” of Umberto Eco’s 1980 novel 'The Name of the Rose’.  

A bibliophile, medievalist, cultural commentator and a leading theorist in the world of semiotics, Eco’s first novel was a densely cross-disciplinary and erudite text and despite the fact that it became an English language best-seller, not material which would immediately suggests the suitability of a film version.  Indeed, the screenplay by Andrew Birkin, Gérard Brach, Howard Franklin and Alain Godard leaves Annaud with little but a sketchy plot which he pads out with excessive dwelling on a gallery of mis-shapen characters, the privations of medieval society and the mist-shrouded setting of the medieval monastery . All this is photographed in fine style by Tonino Delli Colli and encouraged along by James Horner's rich score

If the absence of an engaging story and characters with three dimensions makes one wonder why Annaud went to so much trouble (the monastery was built on a hill outside Rome), the casting only compounds the problem. Connery, if watchable, with his characteristic dry wit is no kind of 14th century monk,(apparently Annaud wasn’t keen to cast Connery either but no better option could be found despite many try-outs including Robert De Niro) whilst a 15 year old Christian Slater in what was effectively his first big screen role plays the wide-eyed pixie but that’s the extent of it.  Only F. Murray Abraham as the callous inquisitor brings any conviction to the film.

The Name Of The Rose failed in English language markets but did surprisingly well in Europe although you'd have to say that this was due to good luck rather than good management. .




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