Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Montalbano on TV and in books

I've managed to avert technical glitches long enough to watch two episodes on DVD of the Italian Commissario Montalbano television series, starring Luca Zingaretti as Andrea Camilleri's choleric, intuitive, food-loving, commitment-avoiding detective.

Zingaretti was several years short of forty when the television series first aired on Italy's RAI network in 1999; Camilleri's Montalbano is around fifty in the first book and ages from there. Zingaretti is bald and clean-shaven; Camilleri's Montalbano is neither. Zingaretti looks less like a young Montalbano than like an older Jason Stethem. (Or maybe all bald men look the same.)

In any case, despite the startling physical departure from Camilleri's original, Zingaretti does a brilliant job, coming up with actions that match beautifully what Camilleri conveys through interior monologue and free indirect speech. One favorite example from the episode based on The Shape of Water has Montalbano silently pumping his fist and exulting when he receives a late-night phone call from a political fixer, a call for which he had laid the groundwork carefully by planting a leak to the media. Television can't convey thought and indirect speech except through the clumsy medium of a voiceover; Zingaretti and director Alberto Sironi find the perfect objective correlative for the delight Camilleri has the character take in his own schemes.
***
Katharina Böhm is less satisfactory as Montalbano's lover, Livia, but that must be a hell of a difficult role. In the novels, Livia is less a physical presence than a voice on the phone and a constant prod to Montalbano's conscience. I don't know how a screenwriter and a performer could capture this successfully.

Isabell Sollman as Ingrid, on the other hand, is as richly physical and humorous a presence on the screen as the character is in the books. I especially liked her accent, just strong enough to remind viewers she's no native without lapsing into over-the-top Swedishisms. The high, wide sweep of her cheekbones helps, too.

Which movie or TV characters do what Zingaretti's Montalbano did: surprise you by not looking or acting the way you expected based on the book while remaining faithful to the book's spirit? Which have matched exactly what you pictured from books?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

where did u get the dvds?

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I ordered them from MHz Networks in Virginia, which broadcasts a number of non-American crime shows.

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Peter they showed two last year on our BBC4 which I recorded. I was not worried by Zingaretti's appearance because he did such a brilliant job of the part, and the support was so brilliantly cast especially Catarella.

Warren Clarke's Andy Dalziel in the British TV series is exactly as I imagined him from the Reginald Hill books. Dalziel was almost the double of my old exiled to Bristol Geordie Professor of Dental Medicine but not a brutal.

In the Mrs Bradley TV series [ based on Gladys Mitchell's books] the eponymous heroine described in the books as almost repulsive was played by the fragrant Diana Rigg. Definitely not what I expected but a very pleasant surprise.

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I watched an episode or two of the Dalziel and Pascoe series before I read any of the books. Now I can't read the books without picturing Dalziel as played by Warren Clarke. That's good; it suggests a good piece of casting.

I was not worried by Zingaretti's appearance, just surprised at first. I wonder how the series handles Montalbano's musing about aging. This would not be the easiest thing to convey on screen even with an actor who appeared older. The episodes I watched made occasional trims from the books, as most adaptations will. Perhaps the motif of aging will be one of these.

Thr actor playing Catarella looks right for the role, doesn't he?

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Simona said...

I am so glad you got to see some of the Montalbano movies. I agree with your review of the casting. I have problems with Livia, but I'll spare you the details. Fazio is different from the books, where he is not as young, but I like the way he was cast. And Dottor Pasquano is great too.

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd have seen two more of them, but one of the CDs I bought is apparently defective, and I will have to exchange it. Provided I have no trouble obtaining a replacement copy, I will gladly order more episodes.

No need to spare me the details about Livia. One commenter wrote that the actress did not speak Italian and that her dialogue had to be dubbed in. This, the commenter suggested, may account for a lack of rapport between Livia and Salvo.

Fazio looks about 15 years old on television, but the actor does a good job. Pasquano is yet one more character true to the books.

November 25, 2009  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Hi Peter! It seems like ages! It has been ages! ;)

Wanted to wish you and your loved ones a happy Thanksgiving! Petra :))

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, and the same to you and yours.

November 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Dalziel was almost the double of my old exiled to Bristol Geordie Professor of Dental Medicine but not a brutal."

A more brutal Fat Andy as dentist. That's a scary thought. I probably would have liked the Geordie accent, though.

November 26, 2009  
Blogger Simona said...

Indeed, that was my comment. The interesting thing is that, because all foreign movies are dubbed, the quality of dubbing in Italy is usually very good. Maybe because in this case she is the only actress dubbed, it is clear that she is, which is annoying. The chemistry between Montalbano and Ingrid is clear, while there seems to be more distance than intimacy between Montalbano and Livia.
I just finished reading La danza del gabbiano, which is a lot about Fazio and the affection Montalbano has for him. In the movies, Montalbano at times looks at Fazio as at a younger self, that, at least, is my impression.

November 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Distance is indeed one of the motifs of Montalbano's and Livia's relationship, though the television version of The Terra-Cotta Dog does have a nice scene with the two of them in the cave.

November 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I did notice an apparent mismatch between Livia's words and her lip movements, but I was unsure whether that was due to dubbing or to the technical problems that had plagued my viewing of the episodes. In any case, since my Italian is far from fluent, faulty dubbing would bother me less than it did you.

November 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and I'm rereading The Shape of Water now. Salvo does seem to work especially closely with Fazio once the investigation picks up. Perhaps La danza del gabbiano returns to that early theme.

November 26, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

It is interesting that the ages of Fazio and Augello are switched in the teleplays. Fazio, we know from the novels, is about Montalbano's age whereas Mimi is about 20 years younger than he is. Yet the TV casting does work (with the jarring exception of Livia -- why a German-speaking Swiss actress when there are any number of Italian actresses, even blonde ones, who could do a fine job?).

The age difference of Montalbano vs Zingaretti is usually smoothed over in the teleplays but it is at the base of the very disappointing TV version of "August Heat" (when you get to that one).

And it is, of course, very difficult to transfer Salvo's musings and chats with himself onto the TV screen, too.

Just as Fazio is a major component driving the plot in "La danza del gabbiano" so is Augello in "Il campo del vasaio (Potter's Field)" -- as Montalbano ages he reflects more and more on the nature of personal relationships and this permits an enjoyable exploration for readers of these significant series characters. They become more fully realized. In a number of Montalbano short stories, the character of Catarella is expanded, too.

Peter, so glad you are enjoying the Montalbano DVDs. Again, if you are having persistent problems, try the ones from Australia's Family Box Office. It's a cinch to make any DVD player "region-free" in order to play these.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, Augelo's age surprised me on the television series, since Salvo's jealousy of Livia's fondness for him is a motif in several of the novels. I expect that the remaining episodes dispense with that subplot. And I agree that the producers could likely gone to Alto Adige for a suitably talented blonde actress.

It will be interesting to see August Heat. Earlier you referred to one episode in which the producers made detrimental changes. I'm guessing that's the episode you intended. I have just reread August Heat and found it even more affecting than I did the first time, so its story is very much on my mind these days. More generally, I wonder how -- and if -- later episodes integrate Zingaretti into themes that involve Montalbano's thoughts about his health, aging and mortality. Worries about health figure prominently in Rounding the Mark and The Patience of the Spider.

And it is, of course, very difficult to transfer Salvo's musings and chats with himself onto the TV screen, too.

Yes, the letters he writes to himself, the amusing dialogues with his conscience, and the little scripts he imagines as an aid to thinking out his investigations are probably a challenge to any screenwriter and director, and these all figure more prominently in the later books. (I'll have to write to you off-blog to ask about the books that follow The Wings of the Sphinx.) And thanks for the tip about the Australian DVDs.

December 02, 2009  
Anonymous Ivan said...

In my opinion, Livia's apparent miscast is due to the fact that the movie is an European co-production. It is quite surprising to see the dubbing, nevertheless.

October 06, 2012  

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