Dir: Luca Vendruscolo. Italy. 2003. 95 mins.

Films about the disabled tend to fall into two camps: either they are 'you can do it!' Hollywood schmaltz-fests; or so rigidly worthy and politically correct that they end up boring the audience. This little Italian gem, however, which mixes able-bodied and handicapped actors, avoids both traps. Set in a community for the disabled somewhere near Rome, it is a resolutely small film shot on such a small budget that it had to be blown up from 16mm to 35mm. But it has a decent script, a neat, humorous sensibility and a refreshingly unpatronising view of disability. That It's Raining Cows has only played on two screens in Rome so far (it opened to $5,700 in Rome) is hardly indicative of its potential to the right distributor: while it is unlikely to qualify for A-grade festival exposure, it should benefit from further outings in smaller festivals, as well as consciousness-raising screenings during 2003, the European Year of the Disabled.

The film also has superficial parallels with the French film, National 7, which stirred interest when it screened at Sundance in 2001. But if National 7 focused, in a somewhat didactic manner, on the right of the disabled to have sexual relationships, so It's Raining Cows raises sex as one among many rights that the able-bodied take for granted. Such as the right to be complete bastards, like Renato, a hardened Roman criminal who, although paralysed from the neck down, manages to exude menace, twist people around his unfeeling little finger and continue to score drugs.

Protagonist Matteo (Tiberi) is up for his military service, but as a conscientious objector, he is allowed to opt for alternative community service. Expecting a cushy museum posting, he ends up at a home for the disabled where he is thrown in at the deep end. The film is not coy about the problems of caring for the disabled and the camera does not hold back.

There is a harrowing scene in which a displaced catheter has to be reinserted by the stressed-out, sleep-deprived helpers, and a marvellous sequence where Luca finds himself having to hose down a patient who has been unable to get to the toilet in time. It starts off on a note of high farce, but this curdles as the audience watch the patient's helpless unhappiness at his plight and the nurse's anger at what he is being forced to do, then moves into a lyrical, slow-motion resolution. Like the audience, Matteo is forced to reassess his liberal prejudices in the course of the year he spends in the community to treat his wards less delicately in order to treat them, paradoxically, with more respect.

Luca Coassin's camerawork and lighting makes inventive use of limited resources, and the soundtrack, with its comic pizzicato and long, Brian Eno-like held chords, backs up the film's blend of moods, which veer from slapstick to cine-verite drama. The odour of authenticity that pervades the script - which picked up a Premio Solinas sceenplay prize in 1996 - derives from the director's own experience as a nurse in a community like that in the film; three of the other five scriptwriters were Vendruscolo's co-workers. And Vendruscolo has found a potential new Eurostar in Alessandro Tiberi, whose Ewan McGregor-style fresh-faced good looks are likely to serve him well in more commercial fare.

Prod co: Axelotil Film
Int'l sales/It dist: Pablo Dist
Prod: Gianluca Arcopinto
Scr: Filippo Bellizzi, Marco Damilano, Massimo De Lorenzo, Marco Marafini, Mattia Torre, Vendruscolo
Cinematography: Luca Coassin
Prod des: Valentina Scalia
Ed: Luca Benedetti
Music: Giuliano Taviani
Main cast: Alessandro Tiberi, Massimo De Lorenzo, Luca Amorosino, Andrea Sartoretti, Mattia Torre, Barbara Bonanni, Franco Ravera