"The 66th edition of the Venice Film Festival got underway Wednesday with an epic and sentimental homage to the Sicilian Oscar-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore and a gala ceremony hosted by Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta." Eric J Lyman for the Hollywood Reporter: "Baarìa became the first Italian film to open the storied Venice festival in nearly a quarter century, and it caused ripples even before its official world premiere: earlier in the day Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - who also owns the country's largest media empire - called the work a masterpiece and said that no 'real' Italian should choose not to see the film."
They don't make them like this any more," writes Lee Marshall in Screen, "or at least not very often - rambling Euro-epics with an apparently nonchalant attitude towards budget (around $30 million) and running time (two and three quarter hours). But the kind of breathing space and large canvas those pre-recession parameters ensure was clearly what Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore needed to just about pull off his most ambitious film since Nuovo Cinema Paradiso."
Mike Collett-White has notes from the press conference for Reuters.
Updates: After surveying the challenges festival director Marco Müller faces this year - and the degrees to which he's met them - Shane Danielsen, writing in indieWIRE, turns his attention to Baarìa: "Crass, hectoring and buffoonish, it played like a potted history of Italian Cinema's Greatest Hits: a little Germi here, some Rosi there, more than a soupçon of Bertolucci (1900, in particular - but also Il Conformista), and an unhealthy dose of Sergio Leone, whose swooping crane-shots and crowd-choreography Tonatore has dutifully mimicked, though to distinctly inferior effect."
"As a showcase for the worst tendencies of contempo Italian cinema, Baarìa can't be beat," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety. "Overblown in every sense, Giuseppe Tornatore's multi-decade evocation of life in the Sicilian town of Bagheria ('Baarìa' in the local dialect) boasts large sets and extras by the thousands, but the vet helmer seems to have forgotten how to develop a scene, let alone a character."
"Although the Sicilian and Italian politics that are the backdrop to the story will mean little to foreign audiences, what holds this film together is not its historical arch but Tornatore's compassion and love for the places and people from which he came," finds Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter.
Updates, 3/9: "There's no faulting the director's ambition, even if you occasionally wish he would slow down, pace himself and maybe even jettison some of those epic set pieces," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Baarìa, much like the men it salutes, is handsome, confident and doomed to overreach itself."
"[E]verything, from organised crime to acute poverty, is dusted with twinkling nostalgia," writes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "It's inoffensively middle-brow to the point of desperation."
Update, 4/9: Lee Marshall in the Evening Standard: "At least Venice can claim to have opened with a halfway decent Italian film with good commercial genes - an event that happens, as they say in Italy, 'ogni morte di Papa,' or around as often as we lose an old Pope and get a new one."