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The Name of the Rose (1986)

June 19th, 2007 · 4 Comments

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In the year 1327, Franciscan monk William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) and his novice Ados (Christian Slater) arrive “in a remote abbey in the dark north of Italy.” They belong to a delegation of Franciscan monks set to debate the Benedictine order on spiritual differences, but William begins a personal inquiry into the recent death of a young translator at the abbey whose work he admired.

William examines the scene and deduces that it was suicide, but when another young scholar’s body is found, he knows a murderer is on the loose. The Ubertino da Casale (William Hickey) believes that an evil presence is at work. Hysteria spreads among the flock. Ados suspects a heretical hunchback (Ron Perlman) is responsible, while William’s focus is on a secret library he believes lies hidden inside the abbey.

The body of the assistant librarian is found next. An inquisitor with the papal delegation named Bernard Gui (F. Murray Abraham) arrives and launches an investigation which he hopes will expose heretics and witchcraft at the abbey. Gui was responsible for the imprisonment and torture of William for once defending a heretic, and the monk has to use his deductive reasoning to expose the true murderer and prevent this from happening again.

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Director Jean-Jacques Annaud was promoting Quest For Fire when he read an article in Le Monde about a novel called The Name of the Rose by first-time author Umberto Eco, which was set to published in France. Annaud loved it and snapped up the screen rights for $15,000, before it went on to become an international bestseller.

Andrew Birkin and Gerard Brach and Howard Franklin and Alain Godard all took turns trying to condense the 500 page book into a screenplay. Annaud rejected overtures from agent Mike Ovitz to cast Sean Connery – whose career had bottomed out with Never Say Never Again – in the lead.

Annaud relented, but Columbia Pictures was so opposed to Connery they refused to back the film. Annaud raised $16 million from financiers in the U.S., Germany, Italy and France and moved ahead. Unable to find a monastery with an exterior like the one in the book, production designer Dante Ferretti built one on a hilltop near Lazio, north of Rome. The interiors were shot in a Cistercian monastery built in the 12th century in the Rhine Valley near Frankfurt.

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Sean Connery and the novelty of a murder mystery set in a 14th century monastery sure go a long way. William of Baskerville is a neat character, a forerunner of Sherlock Holmes, and his application of logic in the search for a medieval killer is certainly novel. I also liked the plot device that uses the lost volume of Aristotle’s Poetics as the catalyst for the crimes.

Annaud – who would direct The Lover, Seven Years In Tibet and Enemy At The Gates – seems to take a scholastic approach to his films, and I had just as much trouble relating to The Name of the Rose. At 130 minutes, it climaxes at the hour mark, when Connery pieces together the murders, and never recovers a pulse after that.

Ron Perlman is terrific as the hunchback, but characters come and go and I never cared about any of them. Slater’s supposed love interest – a peasant played by Valentina Vargas – is just referred to as “The Girl.” As for Slater, he’s totally out of his element in this. Annaud and Eco agreed that his screen credit would read, “A Palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s Novel.” A palimpsest is a manuscript that has been erased so another can be written over it.

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Danel Griffin at Film as Art says The Name of the Rose is, “unfocused, boring, contradictory, and tries too hard to rely on the charisma of Sean Connery as an ancient Holmes instead of telling a coherent tale.”

“I would not consider this film a true horror movie, but it is dark and quite disturbing on many levels. Any fan of movies such as Angelheart, Frailty, or dark religious themed films should truly enjoy this one,” states Horrorwatch.

Aaron Lazenby at Filmcritic.com says The Name of the Rose, “has the insight to use the setting and practices of the early Church for creepy effect, but treats the audience too much like Dr. Watson.”

If you’ve never seen a hunchback singing in Italian while being burned at the stake, but always wanted to, view a :50 scene from the film.

Tags: Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Femme fatale · Forensic evidence · Interrogation · Master and pupil · Murder mystery

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Damian // Jun 20, 2007 at 3:03 am

    This is interesting because I just posted the answers to a screenshot quiz I held last week on my blog and one of the images was from this film.

  • 2 Cinebeats // Jun 20, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    I really love this film, but I’m also very fond of Eco’s books so I’m sure that colors my opinion a bit. I think it features one Connery’s best performances from the 80s too. Smart and creepy (and sometimes even funny) mysteries are hard to come by.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Jun 20, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Damian: There are more odd faced freaks in this flick than in anything short of a Fellini movie. I thought your screenshot was from a Mel Brooks movie for some reason. Maybe the monk reminded me of Igor.

    Kimberly: I agree with you that Connery in this period rules. He was even good in Highlander 2: The Quickening. If you’re a fan of the book I could see how that would help. This was totally European in sensibility, with Christian Slater dissing the poor little peasant girl at the very end and riding away to a life of monkdom.

  • 4 James // Jan 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Anyone know what Salvatore’s song was? I’d love to hear it through!

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