“A director can’t understand the final result from a description. You cannot describe music; it needs to be listened to.” So says Ennio Morricone in one of many talking-head sections that comprise Giuseppe Tornatore’s documentary. But Ennio, as it’s aptly titled, can feel part-documentary, part-video essay, and, yes, part-talking head compilation. It’s 156 minutes, but even the first four hint at its simplicity. A barrage of musicians, producers, and filmmakers spout what the film quickly compresses into glorified soundbites. Morricone was a towering artist. Audiences already knew this. But Tornatore doesn’t fully unpack the composer’s impact; he does more to describe it.

So what else is there to listen to? Per Morricone himself, he wanted to be a doctor, but his father insisted he learn the trumpet. He took classes at the Saint Cecilia Conservatory at age 12 and studied under Goffredo Petrassi, later marrying Maria Travia. He’d then work on television, composing scores at night. If nothing else, the film arranges these tidbits literally––often too much so. Ennio can be dry at its worst, and while Massimo Quaglia and Annalisa Schillaci edit it breathlessly, Tornatore’s approach is too simplistic to make much impression. One can’t help but feel that reading this information would often yield the same result.

By the time Ennio gets to Morricone’s film career––36 minutes in––its structure is all too apparent. He worked on The Fascist for his first full score. Then, for his debut Western, he worked on Gunfight in the Red Sands. Then he worked with Sergio Leone, and so forth. Perhaps the film could have layered in more insight or, being that it’s a movie about the cinematic arts, some degree of metatext. Alas it favors the direct approach, often amounting to a collage of Morricone’s career in a chronological, cut-and-dry manner. It moves well but lacks the prehensility to marry sight and sound, plainly featuring clips of the work at hand rather than analyzing it.

This is enough of an issue to soften one of its largest selling points: Morricone himself takes a sizable amount of screentime. He recounts most of his life and career, an inherently rich offering. The problem is that, for the vitality Morricone’s work exudes, Tornatore’s camera remains stuck, seeing him from the same two interview angles. Save for a brief prologue in which Morricone composes alone in his office, the director’s eye doesn’t match the composer’s essence.

That’s not to say Ennio is apathetic in tone. It doesn’t misunderstand Morricone either, but given how prosaically it organizes its information, how could it? Whether the decision was to not distract from Morricone’s own words is beside the point. As its runtime unfolds, Tornatore’s attitude veers just too far into that of an enthusiast rather than that of a convincing filmmaker. The result is too infatuated with Morricone’s work to the point that it loses its ability to contextualize it, even with the bevy of archival material on display.

Take a moment when Morricone discusses his work on The Mission. He recounts his hesitation to score the film for fear he would “only ruin it.” There’s a deeper discussion here regarding when music isn’t necessary or constructive. Instead the film forgoes that and, in the process, loses an opportunity to prove just how Morricone’s work was always needed––how his music worked because it knew and listened to silence. Ennio doesn’t seem too interested in that, though. It can’t bear to exist in a negative space, even in its technical proficiency.

By the end, it’s too easy to think of what Morricone said earlier: “You cannot describe music. It needs to be listened to.” Put in the context of talking heads unambiguously praising the man, it only seems the film comes short in justifying its purpose as a documentary. It’s not so much a matter of the piece being one-sided; that would at least imply a more vehement perspective. It’s the lack of deconstructive efforts here that ultimately turn the piece into less than the sum of its parts.

Ennio opens on Friday, February 9.

Grade: C+

No more articles