It’s hard to believe it took 17 years for a filmmaker to finally adapt Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto for the big screen. The novel , which is very loosely based on the 1996 hostage crisis at the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru, has been successfully turned into an opera, which is fitting, given that its story revolves around an opera singer. But attempts to do the same for a movie (or even a Broadway musical) have repeatedly fallen through—at least, until now. On Sept. 14, Paul Weitz, perhaps best known for co-writing About a Boy and American Pie and for his work on Mozart in the Jungle, will bring the multi-faceted melodrama to the big screen.
In the first trailer for the film, Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe lead an international cast as an American soprano and a Japanese businessman brought together in an unnamed South American country for his birthday party—until the party is hijacked by terrorists (or freedom fighters, depending on your point of view). They’re joined by Christopher Lambert as a French diplomat, Ryo Kase as the businessman’s translator, Sebastian Koch as a Red Cross negotiator, and Tenoch Huerta as the leader of the guerrilla force. María Mercedes Coroy, who broke out in the 2015 Guatemalan drama Ixcanul, is also among the cast as Carmen, whose allegiances are hard to pin down.
Patchett’s novel is beloved, but it seems like Weitz won’t be precious about making changes, since even in the relatively short space of the trailer, there’s already one major deviation from the original story. (Spoilers ahead.) Around 40 seconds in, one of the young terrorists seems to shoot a man, presumably the opera singer’s accompanist, in the chest as he comes in the door; in the novel, the character simply dies from lack of insulin, having failed to disclose that he was a diabetic.
That may seem like a minor detail, but it’s significant, because the accompanist’s death is a major turning point in the story, and if the change is as it appears, then Weitz has turned a tragicomic moment into a purely tragic one. Whether that’s a sign of major tonal changes to the story as a whole or a simple tweak to the plot remains to be seen.
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