Helmer battles Italo conservatives

'Beauty's' right to die theme piques ire

ROME — Revered “provoc-auteur” Marco Bellocchio (“Vincere”) is stirring Italo ire with his latest hot-button project, “Sleeping Beauty,” which takes its cue from a divisive local right-to die case similar to the 2005 Terri Schiavo controversy in the U.S.

The Friuli Venezia Giulia region, known for its conservative Catholic bent, is trying to prevent production shingle Cattleya from obtaining up to $200,000 in gap financing for Bellocchio’s “Beauty,” which interweaves three separate life-and-death story strands against the backdrop of Italy’s 2009 Eluana Englaro right-to-die controversy.

Englaro, 38, had spent 17 years in a vegetative state following a car crash. Her family, with the support of Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, eventually won a decade-long court battle that pitted them against then-premier Silvio Berlusconi and the Vatican to allow doctors to take her off life-support.

Co-penned by Italo scribe Stefano Rulli (“The Best of Youth”) and novelist Veronica Raimo, “Beauty” includes a storyline — which gives the film its title — involving a past-her-prime movie star, played by Isabelle Huppert, who keeps her beautiful but comatose daughter alive inside their home. Another strand sees Italo actress Alba Rohrwacher (“I Am Love”) as a young Catholic militant; her father is played by Toni Servillo (“Il Divo”).

“We don’t want to be perceived as a place that fosters a culture of death,” lamented one of the region’s pols after attempting to prevent the pic from even applying for local coin.

But Bellocchio and Cattleya are forging ahead.

“Denying access to funding for this film is against the law, and perhaps even the constitution,” says Cattleya topper Riccardo Tozzi, who has filed for the funds. “This is a deeply spiritual film about love, not about death.”

Tozzi points out that the objecting pols haven’t read the script, and notes that, in any event, the decision regarding coin for the pic is up to the FVG Film Commission, not local officials.

” ‘Beauty” is not about the Englaro case, nor does it take sides in the issue,” says Bellocchio, who has been making movies about the dark side of Italy’s national psyche since he burst on the scene in 1965 with dysfunctional family drama “Fists in the Pocket,” featuring fratricide, matricide and suggested sister incest.

Explaining his fascination with the right-to-die topic, Bellocchio recently noted that “as a leftist, I made a film on leftist terrorism (2003’s “Good Morning, Night,” about the Red Brigades’ kidnapping of Italo premiere Aldo Moro). Now, as a former Jesuit school student, I want to tackle the theme of euthanasia.”

Shooting is set to start Jan.30 in Friuli, with Cattleya and Gaul’s Babe Films co-producing with RAI Cinema, which will release the pic in Italy.

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