"Please excuse the invasion -- it's an old habit." Napoleon Bonaparte, entering a room, in Italian director Paolo Virzi's new film, Napoleon and Me. Virzi's film, which is a mixture of soft comedy and emotional soapboxing about ideals like freedom and honor, focuses on a brief period at the end of the Napoleonic Wars when the vanquished French emperor was sent into exile on the tiny Italian island of Elba. The film imagines Elba as a prototypical small town that's about to be visited by a superstar. Most of the people want nothing more than to stand and gawk at the arriving celebrity, while others work behind the scenes to try to sponge something off of it, and at least one person is nursing an unhealthy obsession about it. In this film, Martino (Elio Germano) is that person. Both in awe of Napoleon and repulsed by him, we first see Martino teaching children, and trying to instill in them the idea that Napoleon -- "the paladin of liberty turned despot and assassin" -- should be greeted with curses and rotten fruit when he arrives.
Once the captured Emperor sets foot on shore, complete with his Muslim bodyguards and traditional tricorn hat, he so easily gets the crowds eating out of his hand that some people assume that Elba is his latest conquest, instead of seeing themselves as his jailer. A plot contrivance then has Martino being selected out of all the literate men on Elba to be Napoleon's secretary during his stay on the island. Right up until the moment he enters Napoleon's presence, Martino intends to simply walk in and open fire, but when the time comes he can't do it. The Emperor's presence captivates him, and he decides to hold off the assassination plan until he learns a little more. What follows is a moderately entertaining film, as the untested ideas of Martino bounce off of Napoleon's immeasurably deeper experience and more importantly, his insatiable desires, which inform his every step. The biggest idea that you take away from the film is that powerful men are men who acquire what they want first, and then debate the morality of it afterwards.