Shockingly modernist in its masterful displacement of time and space, for many critics Singing Behind Screens is one of the high points of Italian cinema in recent years. The work of Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi has gone through a number of evolutions in his 46-year career, but none as amazing as his current transfiguration into a romantic symbolist. He seems capable of creating an original film world with a few powerful strokes of his brush; or in this case, a camera sumptuously manned by his talented son Fabio Olmi. Like his previous film The Profession of Arms, this is an anti-war story. Instead of drawing on medieval history, it takes its inspiration from a Jorge Luis Borges tale about a Chinese pirate queen sailing the high seas. To this Olmi adds another story, that of a young man in what looks like a Chinese brothel circa 1930 who is watching everything take place on stage, as in an opium dream. The strange fable is narrated by an old captain (Bud Spencer). Admiral Ching, tempted to give up pirating by the Emperor's edict, has been murdered by his own capitalist backers, who have a vested interest in his activities. Surprising everyone, his widow (Jun Ichikawa) boldly takes his place at the head of his pirate fleet and takes her revenge, ravaging the coast of China. When the old emperor dies, his heir ascends to the throne and personally engages the widow Ching in a great naval battle.
Born in Bergamo in 1931, Ermanno Olmi's illustrious career has garnered him the Cannes Film Festival Palme D'or (The Tree of Wooden Clogs), and from the Venice Film Festival, a Critics' Prize (The Job), a Silver Lion (Long Live the Lady), and a Golden Lion for his masterpiece The Legend of the Holy Drinker. His other film credits include One Fine Day, The Circumstance, Camminacammina, The Secret of the Old Woods, Genesis: Creation and the Flood and more recently, Profession of Arms, which narrates the last days in the life of the condottiero Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and was a candidate for the Palme d'Or. In 1982 he co-founded Ipotesi Cinema, a hands-on apprenticeship program for aspiring young filmmakers. Since 1976 he has lived with his family in Asiago, Italy.