Dir: Alessandro D'Alatri. Italy. 2002. 116mins.
Alessandro D'Alatri is back with a stylish romantic comedy which draws more than any of his previous outings on his other job - directing TV commercials. Set in contemporary Milan, Casomai will appeal to the generation it depicts: urban professional thirtysomethings, caught between work, the pleasure imperative and the family instinct. Bolstered by a solid poster campaign, a tie-in soundtrack and the bankable Stefania Rocca in the lead, the film should build over three or four weeks to respectable takings in Italy after it opens there on Apr 30 . However, it is unlikely to match the $11.4m (Euros 13.1m) taken by Gabriele Muccino's L'Ultimo Bacio (The Last Kiss), whose theme and target audience make for obvious comparisons. Casomai has a slick, vaguely transatlantic feel; but its lack of a high-concept plot line and periods of low-tension drama will limit its overseas prospects.
For more than 10 years, D'Alatri has been stuck in Next Big Thing limbo. A small but promising debut was followed by one of the best Italian independent films of the 1990s, Senza Pelle (Without Skin) in 1994, making it look like D'Alatri was on the verge of something. But despite a relatively large budget and a certain surface gloss, his next film, 1998's I Giardini Dell'Eden (The Gardens of Eden) - a woolly, New Age biopic about Jesus' wilderness years - was a major disappointment. In Casomai, D'Alatri moves back from Biblical Palestine to more familiar territory: millennial Milan and the intersecting worlds of advertising, fashion and design that drive it. In doing so, he proves that while he may not be the new Bertolucci that some critics saw in Senza Pelle, he is an intelligent director with a sure visual sense and a good ear for dialogue. And while it drags in parts, D'Alatri's most upbeat and commercial film to date should help to turn the prodigal son into part of the scenery.
The film's title, Casomai, is cleverer than most. Somewhere between 'maybe' and 'at a push', it is the sort of lazy interjection that a pair of Milanese modern lovers might use to suggest that there is always a fallback option, an escape route. The lovers in question are Stefania (Stefania Rocca) and Tommaso (Fabio Volo), a successful radio DJ and TV presenter in his first film role). In the opening frames we see them driving towards an isolated rural church, having decided that it would be a picturesque and original place to tie the knot. However, when it comes to their marriage day, the priest (a nicely-nuanced performance from Gennaro Nunziante) surprises both them and their assembled friends and family by giving them a picturesque and original marriage ceremony designed to overturn their fragile designer loveboat and replace it with a more solid vessel.
This ceremony-performance provides the frame of the entire film, in which we see the couple's relationship extended backwards and forwards in time. After some longueurs - especially in the scenes that chart the couple's spiral towards the inevitable break-up - a twist in the tail provides for a satisfyingly feelgood ending.
His career in commercials gives D'Alatri satire of the advertising industry a nicely realistic edge. And it has also provided him with a useful bag of style tricks: jumpcuts, washed-out sepia shots, some use of computer animation and a strong feel for the match between image and soundtrack - the latter provided by pop diva Elisa and longtime D'Alatri collaborators Pivio and Aldo De Scalzi. And the casting of first-timer Volo opposite experienced actress Rocca was a clever way of dealing with the local habit of over-acting, turning the pair into a believable couple.
Prod co: Rai Cinema, Magic Moments
It dist: 01 Distribution
Int'l sales: TBA
Prod: Marco Valsania
Scr: Anna Pavignano, Alessandro D'Alatri
Cinematography: Agostino Castiglioni
Prod des: Paolo Monzeglio
Ed: Osvaldo Bargero
Music: Pivio & Aldo de Scalzi
Main cast: Stefania Rocca, Fabio Volo, Gennaro Nunziante, Mino Manni, Maurizio Scattorin, Sara D'Amario, Paola Bechis