Dir: Jan Sardi. Australia/UK. 2004. 90 mins

Jan Sardi's screenplay for the gritty biopic Shine was nominated for all the major international awards in 1997. Now he makes his directorial debut with this lightweight romantic fable from a self-penned screenplay which could have done with a tougher editor. Sardi's stretched story is set in a well rendered 1957, mainly in picturesque rural Victoria but with impressive visits to a magnificently unspoiled hilltop Italian village, and his production values are high, boosted mightily by top work from Lord Of The Rings trilogy cinematographer Andrew Lesnie.

With an international cast led by Giovanni Ribisi (Heaven, Lost In Translation, Cold Mountain), this Australian/UK co-production aims for the heart-warming period romance market and scores in most areas outside its one-note plotting. It premiered at the recent Santa Barbara Film festival and opens wide in Australia on April 1. European sales - to Germany and Italy - have already been made.

The two Donnini brothers live above their uncle's restaurant in an Italian community in rural Australia. Gino (Garcia) is the handsome, outgoing, younger one; Angelo (Ribisi) the plain, intense, elder brother. Gino attracts all the girls, especially vivacious Connie (de Santis), but doesn't want to get married; Angelo desperately does, though local marriage broker Signora Carmellina (Bron) has tried often to match him with a mail-order bride from Italy and failed.

When a photograph arrives of beautiful Rosetta (Warner), Angelo agrees to try one last written proposal - but this time he decides to increase his chances by including a photo of his dashing brother. In her stunning cobble-stoned Italian village, Rosetta falls in love with Gino's image, betroths herself and travels round the world for a formal marriage - to the wrong brother.

Once this basic situation is established, restated, underlined, italicised and exclaimed, the couples can be realigned and all live happily ever after. It's a fairy tale world with a touch of magic realism provided by a passing mute Gypsy artist who prefigures events in the large mural he's painting in the restaurant.

Garcia (looking like a younger version of UK singer Cliff Richard) and winsome Warner are picture-book perfect, but Ribisi plays by other rules. His depressed, unhappy Angelo belongs to a more realistic story. Though the script repeatedly reminds us of Angelo's basic niceness and worth, Ribisi stresses the character's pain, plainness and self-loathing. It's heavy method realism in an airy tale, and there's some Brando mumbling, too.

Music (Stephen Warbeck), production design (Paul Heath) and cinematography (Lesnie) are excellent throughout, and there is much to admire about Sardi's large international supporting cast, though their continuous fake-Italian-accented English eventually loses its charm. As does the screenplay's constant restatement of its very simple premise.

Prod cos: Film Finance Corporation Australia
Aust/NZ dist:
Palace Films
Int'l sales:
Arclight Films
Jane Scott, Sarah Radclyffe
Andrew Lesnie
Production designer:
Paul Heath
Veronika Jenet
Stephen Warbeck
Main cast:
Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Garcia, Amelia Warner, Silvia de Santis, Barry Otto, Eleanor Bron