Dir: Giuseppe Bertolucci. Italy, 2001. 112 mins.

Towards the end of Giuseppe Bertolucci's new film, the director's voice can be heard off-camera, pondering one of those fundamental questions: "Do I really want to make this film, or do I just want to dream it'" One can't help feeling that the latter would have been the better option. Although it left the press cold, the film was applauded at its official Venice screening by a young, predominantly Italian, cine-literate audience; and this is the only type of audience it can expect to please commercially.

Giuseppe is the younger brother of Bernardo; his first taste of film work was as assistant director on his big brother's The Spider's Stratagem. As there was already one director in the family, Bertolucci junior began to carve out a career for himself as a scriptwriter; when he did finally get to sit in the canvas chair, he avoided fraternal conflict by exploring the grey area between film, theatre, cabaret and TV. His adrenalin-fuelled record of Roberto Benigni's live show, Tuttobenigni (1986), which lurks somewhere in most Italians' video collections, was a highpoint. It is only relatively recently, with Il Dolce Rumore Della Vita (1999), that Giuseppe has made a pitch for the full-on cineaste territory that was once Bernardo's domain (though the latter appears to be heading back in that direction after years in the commercial wilderness).

In fact, Probably Love is as uncompromisingly arthouse as they come. It's a film about making a film (remember those'); it's also a film about the thin line between fiction and reality (remember that'). Divided into three parts, the film revolves around three friends, Sofia and Chiara, who appear to be actresses, and Cesare, who appears to be going out with Sonia. Fired up by a dressing down from her drama teacher, Sonia decides to blur the line between drama and real life during a country house weekend. The consequences of the lie she tells power the finale of the first part and most of the second, during which Sonia has a fling with a railway ticket collector. By part three - in which Sonia goes for a dreamlike screen test in a tenebrous Cinecittà studio - the plotspring, like the film, is running out of steam.

From the title down, Probably Love reads like a nostalgia-trip for the old, Godardian way of doing things. Technical tricks include echoed fragments of film and dialogue, bleached-out film, low-res digital footage and extreme close-ups, while the film is cadenced by a series of rehearsal-conversations between the actor and the off-screen director which - paradoxically - provide some of the few lighter and more perceptive moments in a work that takes itself way too seriously. Still, it is in some ways touching to see a mature director fired by a film-school appetite for experimentation.

Int'l sales: Istituto Luce
Prod: Massimo Cortesi, Pio Bordoni
Scr: Giuseppe Bertolucci
Cinematography: Fabio Cianchetti
Production des: Gianni Silvestri.
Ed: Federica Lang.
Main cast: Sonia Bergamasco, Rosalinda Celentano, Fabrizio Gifuni, Teco Celio, Elisabetta Carta.