As he did in "Mac," actor/writer/director John Turturro explores the conflicts, hardships, camaraderie and rewards inherent in the long, arduous process of creation. His first film was a love letter to his father, an exacting craftsman who built houses but envisioned homes. With "Illuminata," Turturro puts his own craft under the microscope.
Of the many paradoxes within "Illuminata," adapted by Turturro and Brandon Cole from his play, the foremost is the idea that theater -- a blatantly fake medium -- can render with heartbreaking clarity the emotional complexity of real life. At least that's what Tuccio (Turturro) wholeheartedly believes.
A marginal playwright married to Rachel (Katherine Borowitz), a revered actress and leader of a beleaguered turn-of-the-century acting company, Tuccio seizes an unexpected opportunity to present his new work. During the opening-night performance of a different play, the panic-stricken lead actor collapses onstage, and Tuccio announces to the captive audience the premiere instead of "Illuminata," his meditation on betrayal and selfless love.
When it bombs, allegiances shift within the troupe. Tuccio is sent into a tailspin, but a contingent (motivated by careerism as much as loyalty) lobbies for a second chance for both the author and "Illuminata."
One character asserts that there's only a "slender curtain" separating theater and life, and that point is proven when Rachel and Tuccio confront each other -- over the play, their shaky union, the fusion of their professional and personal lives -- and the married Borowitz and Turturro beautifully demonstrate how the complex relationship of this couple fuels their work.
With a stellar cast (including Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Rufus Sewell and the late Donal McCann) Turturro ably demonstrates that beyond all the pompous parading of ego-driven actors lies an unselfish desire to illuminate the real truth of our lives.