Dir:Cristina Comencini. It-UK-Sp-Fr. 2005. 120mins.

Thestrongest of the three Italian films in competition at Venice this year, Don'tTell will nevertheless struggle to extend worthy local director CristinaComenicini's limited international appeal.

GiovannaMezzogiorno's gritty performance as a soon-to-be-mother forced to deal for thefirst time with the ghosts of child abuse in her childhood netted her the BestActress award on the Lido; but Mezzogiorno's star turn is not quite enough toshift this well-structured but conventional drama into a higher gear.

Withits flat, made-for-TV photography and editing, the film lacks the cinematicrichness and originality of recent Italian exports like The Consequences OfLove or I'm Not Scared.

Openingin Italy on the weekend of its Venice success, Don't Tell beat CinderellaMan to second place behind Madagascar. But this buoyant result isunlikely to be matched by significant foreign box office - except perhaps inFrancophone Europe, where Comenicini's previous family dramas have built thedirector a small reputation.

Basedon Comencini's successful novel, the film strays into Mystic Riverterritory, exploring the delayed-reaction psychological damage that child abusecan wreak on an apparently normal adult.

Sabina(Mezzogiorno) is an attractive young woman in a loving relationship with anupcoming actor Franco (Alessio Boni, last seen as the policeman-brother in TheBest Of Youth). She works in Italy's busy dubbing industry - and we firstsee her dubbing a rape scene, her yelps and squeals strangely funny at thetime, but in retrospect more disturbing when we consider the silence imposed onthe abused child.

Aseries of nightmares coincide with Sabina's discovery that she is pregnant -and, unable to connect with her partner, she flies off to the US to stay withher older brother (Luigi Lo Cascio), hoping that he will help her interpret thehalf-remembered terror that lurks somewhere in her apparently normal bourgeoisupbringing, which is shown in sombre flashbacks.

Comenciniis at her best when she lets herself digress intuitively from the main story,as in a sub-plot centring on a lesbian relationship between Sabina's blindschoolfriend Emilia (Stefania Rocca) and the matronly dubbing producer Maria(Angela Finocchiaro), whose self-deprecatory Roman irony is a source of comicrelief.

Anothersatirical thread centres on the TV hospital series - a sort of Italian ER- where Franco reluctantly finds a rent-paying job while waiting for the nextserious film role to come along.

Butthe director's structural bravura and command of character does not translateinto ravishing images: Don't Tell is a novelist's film, strong onnarrative and psychological nuance, but boring to watch. Placing shots are helda second too long, reverse angles and tracking shots feel plodding, and when ahalf original frame is found - as in an interior/exterior shot of Sabina andher brother arguing behind a sparkling screen of New Year's Eve fireworks - itfeels like a major victory.

Thefilm also hits a couple of false notes in the American scenes, which could havebeen set just about anywhere: with clunky English dialogue that sounds asthough it has been translated direct from the Italian, these are no great adfor the film's international reach.

Rai Cinema
Aquarius Films
Alquimia Cinema

TF1 International

Riccardo Tozzi

Francesca Marciano
Cristina Comencini
Giulia Caleda
from Cristina Comencini's novel

Fabio Cianchetti

Paola Comencini

Cecilia Zanuso

Franco Piersanti

Giovanna Mezzogiorno
Alessio Boni
Stefania Rocca
Angela Finocchiaro
Giuseppe Battiston
Luigi Lo Cascio