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'Ennio' Review: A dense celebration of the Italian maestro

'Ennio' - Giuseppe Tornatore

Set into the fabric of a finished film, beside the stories of Quentin Tarantino, Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma, lay the soundtracks of Italian composer Ennio Morricone, elevating each respective movie with a score that inflated its purpose. Matched only by the American composer John Williams for popularity and critical adoration, the work of Morricone has left an indelible mark on the history of cinema and musical performance around the world. 

Such is the subject of Ennio, the new documentary from Giuseppe Tornatore that breaks down the life of the Italian maestro with painstaking attention to detail. As dense and intellectually informed as a BBC Four breakdown, Tornatore crafts a movie that would glue any existing Morricone fan to the screen with its extensive exploration of the musical mind, but would equally be a hard sell for newcomers. 

Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours long, Tornatore’s approach to the life of the late Ennio Morricone is slow and methodical, breaking down each and every aspect of the composer’s early life before treating audiences to the meat of his popular career. Though somewhat arduous, this early groundwork weaves an intricate image of the musician that provides a compelling framework from which the rest of the documentary is constructed, bypassing the thrill of the cinematic spectacle to access the true heart of the individual. 

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Putting together extensive research and scrupulous archive video sourcing, by the time the documentary reaches a point whereby it begins to explore Morricone’s early cinematic career, working on such projects as Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, we are already well informed on the history of the composer. Revealing fascinating insights into the iconic soundtracks for the films of Leone whilst exploring the relationship between him and the Italian filmmaker, who attended the same school as Morricone, Tornatore creates a valuable cinematic essay. 

Chronicling the impact of the composer, from the very start of his career to his late work on the Quentin Tarantino movie The Hateful Eight, the documentary does well to cover every base, interviewing every relevant contact to create the definitive article on the influential figure. Unsurprisingly, it’s an exhausting watch as no stone is left unturned in the retelling of Morricone’s extraordinary life, with everyone from Hans Zimmer to Bruce Springsteen being asked about the legacy of the icon. 

Explored in rather rudimentary parameters, the whole project is played out with talking head interviews, interspersed with archival footage and cinematic sequences that show off the majesty of Morricone’s work. It’s certainly a departure from the modern documentary method that prefers a flashy, frenetic style to keep up with the express storytelling of Netflix’s true crime stories, with this plodding, methodological approach being both laborious and refreshingly comprehensive. 

It’s easier to brush over the impact of the Italian composer too, with Tornatore’s documentary feeling like a noble exercise for a late cinematic icon who passed away in July of 2020. Devising a brand new method of composing that imbued the soundtrack with its very own strand of storytelling, Tarantino compares the brilliance of Ennio Morricone to Beethoven or Mozart in typically impulsive voice in one telling scene, though if the size of Tornatore’s film tells us anything, he’s not far off. 

Ennio is released by Dogwoof in UK cinemas and on demand from April 22nd.