Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to the Tuscan island of Elba in 1814, where he spent the better part of a year before escaping to France with his personal escort of more than 600 men. This historical moment is beautifully evoked in Paolo Virzì's lighthearted costume drama Napoleon and Me, as fast-paced as an operetta and spiked with Tuscan humor. Although welcomed enthusiastically by the local people, the arrival of Bonaparte is seen through the eyes of an idealistic young teacher, Martino (Elio Germano), who reviles Napoleon's politics. When he is invited to become the Emperor's librarian, Martino sees it as a chance to assassinate him, but little by little he finds himself captured by Napoleon's extraordinary mind. French actor Daniel Auteuil casts an aura of authentic magnetism in his interpretation of Bonaparte, playing against Germano's frustrated revolutionary with the skill of a chess master. Complicating their relationship is Monica Bellucci as an intriguing Baroness who goes to bed with Martino but has her eye on the Emperor. Virzì, a popular Italian director known for comedies with a sharp social edge, is in top form here. Comic side stories make generous use of the Tuscan dialect and accents, yet there are some genuinely emotional moments, too, notably a jewel-like cameo by Margarita Lozano as Napoleon's former nursemaid. Locations on Elba deliciously bring the period to life in this lighthearted comedy based on Ernesto Ferrero's prizewinning historical novel N. Copresented with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York.
PAOLO VIRZI's first film, La Bella Vita (1994; Living It Up), earned him the David di Donatello and Nastro d'Argento Awards for Best Debut Director. His other feature films are: Ferie d'agosto (1996; August Vacation), winner of the David di Donatello Award for Best Film; Ovosodo (1997; Hardboiled Egg), winner of the Grand Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival; Baci e abbracci (1999; Kisses and Hugs); My Name Is Tanino (2002); and Caterina va in città (2003; Caterina in the Big City), winner of the Ciak d'Oro Award for Best Screenplay.