Dir: Pappi Corsicato. Italy. 2008. 84mins.

Neapolitan director Pappi Corsicato conjures up the spirit but little of the dramatic and thematic depth of his acknowledged master Pedro Almodovar in this bright but lightweight comedy-melodrama. But though its afterglow is short-lived, Corsicato’s amusing little film still came as a pleasant surprise at the end of a humdrum Venice. With its sexy Mediterranean attitude, kitsch production design and terrific retro soundtrack it represents a return to form for one of Italy’s least solemn indie auteurs.

A star turn from former Bond girl Caterina Murino proves that the Sardinian actress has a Sophia Loren-like talent for sexy comedy that has been notably lacking in previous heirs to the throne such as Maria Grazia Cucinotta. Murino’s uncomplicated sex appeal, together with some enjoyable supporting stints by Italian stars Alessandro Gassman, Isabella Ferrari and Martina Stella should make this September 5 release easily the best-received of Corsicato’s films on home ground, especially with the marketing muscle of top Italian distributor Medusa behind it. Elsewhere it will be more of a niche product, though with its irreverent pop Catholic aesthetic, Spain and Latin America could be key markets.

Based on Heinrich von Kleist’s short story La Marchesa Von O, already adapted in more faithful, period fashion by Erich Rohmer in 1976, the story focuses on Veronica (Murino), a self-assured young boutique owner who finds out that she is pregnant at the same time that Mario (Gassman), her fertiliser-salesman husband, discovers he is infertile. Veronica begins to suspect that she may have been impregnated after she fainted during a mugging and sets out to track down her masked assailant.

Rohmer used the same high-concept premise as the basis for an often stinging social critique, but Corsicato attempts little more than gentle social parody - of part-time marriages, of the modern Italian man’s sexual insecuritites and fear of strong women. A gallery of minor characters - Veronica’s overbearing mother (Fabrizi), her brittle bar-owning friend Monica (Ferrari), two middle-aged garden-centre wives that Mario is having affairs with - provide some amusing moments, but it’s Veronica who monopolises the script and the camera.

Without Corsicato’s obvious affection for his characters and sure control of bittersweet tone (which slips only during the thankfully brief rape scene) as well as Murino’s combination of screen presence and ability to segue seamlessly from gags to sentiment, this would be a ludicrously fluffy exercise, but these two x-factors provide the necessary ballast.

It’s the tongue-in-cheek, hyper-real retro look of the thing, however, that elevates this film - by a short head - above the level of the average Italian rom-com. Primary-coloured interiors,wiggle dresses and a some Roger-Vadim-era visual effects evoke an updated sixties feel which is nailed down by the soundtrack a medley of scores by Ennio Morricone and other Italian B-movie composers.

And after the crime-ridden favelas of Gomorra, it’s refreshing to see Naples looking like downtown Tokyo: most of the film was shot in the Centro Direzionale, a futuristic urban business park designed by Japanese architect Kanzo Tange.

Production companies
Rodeo Drive
Medusa Film

International sales
Rodeo Drive
(39) 06 454 497 67

Marco Poccioni
Marco Valsania

Pappi Corsicato
Massimo Gaudosio

Ennio Guarnieri

Production design
Antonio Farina

Giorgio Franchini

Main cast
Caterina Murino
Alessandro Gassman
Martina Stella
Michele Venitucci
Valeria Fabrizi
Isabella Ferrari