Dir: Alessandro Angelini. It. 2006. 88mins.

Tight and tense, this debut feature by documentarydirector Alessandro Angelini is the first local buzztitle to have emerged from the inaugural Rome Film Fest. Telling the story of ayoung prison counsellor who discovers that his latest charge - a convictedmurderer - is the man who abandoned him and his mother when he was still aninfant, L'Aria Salata (whichtranslates as "salty air") is a small, punchy drama which feels closer tocontemporary Scandinavian moral tragedies (InYour Hands, Manslaughter) than toanything that has come out of Italy of late.

Like those Scandinavians, Angelini gets outstanding performances out of his actors,particularly the ever more mature Giorgio Pasotti (After Midnight) and experiencedtheatrical, TV and cinema trooper Giorgio Colangeli (La Cena, The Family Friend).

Picked up by Pyramide International just before the Rome festival, Angelini's debut should attract some overseas interest,which will be fuelled also by its upcoming London Film Festival berth. At itspress screening, the film was respectfully rather than ecstatically received bythe home brigade - one critic being heard to comment that its relentlessdramatic pace was "too American" for her taste.

Though 01 Distribution canexpect decent box-office results on the back of upbeat critical reaction, thistitle could paradoxically prove to be more of a film for export - though itlacks the cinematic depth and kooky originality of another recent Italian overseassuccess, Paolo Sorrentino's The Consequences Of Love.

Fabio (Pasotti)works in a Roman prison as an "educatore", acounsellor whose job it is to decide when prisoners are ready to be insertedback into society, and to guide them through the process.

Almost evangelical in hisdedication to his job, the angry, edgy, constantly wired Fabio never waversfrom the strict ethical code that he applies to himself, his prison charges,his pregnant sister Cristina (played by the ever watchableMichela Cescon) and hison-off girlfriend (Katy Saunders), whose rich businessman father he despises.

One day Fabio realises that Sparti (Colangeli), his latestcase - a hardened, prickly older prisoner who has served 20 years for murder -is the father he hasn't seen since he was two. Caught between resentment andthe desire to extract explanations for a past that he has never made peacewith, Fabio first torments and then begins to bond with the older man, despitethe latter's apparent lack of remorse for his crime, or for his poor record asa family man.

If conflict is the heart ofany good screenplay, there's conflict aplenty here: between Fabio and Cristina,who wants nothing to do with the father who abandoned their mother; between Sparti and the prison guards; and between Fabio and Sparti. Their tussle, which is reminiscent in some ways ofthe father-son stand off in The Return,is the dramatic heart of the film, though it is tied up a little too neatly atthe end.

In fact, this is the onlyreal limitation of Angelini's impressive debut: it'salmost too perfect an example of the model script. But the committedperformances of Pasotti (who comes on at times like ayoung Robert Carlyle) and the granitic Colangeli take the edge of this rather schematic approachto dramatic structure.

Visually, the film fresh andinventive, mixing urgent handheld camerawork in the more emotionally heightenedscenes with steady close-ups of faces - often illuminated from the side by acold white light.

Production companies/backers
Bianca Film
Rai Cinema

International sales
Pyramide International

Italian distribution
01 Distribution

Donatella Botti

Alessandro Angelini
Angelo Carbone

Arnaldo Catinari

Massimo Fiocchi

Production design
Alessandro Marrazzo

Luca Tozzi

Main cast
Giorgio Pasotti
Giorgio Colangeli
Michela Cescon
Katy Saunders