Dir: Paolo Virzi. It-Fr-Sp. 2006. 110mins.

The latest Eurozone attemptto find a new angle on the Napoleon story finally, Napoleon And Me allows Daniel Auteuil to pitch into a role which seems to have been cutout for an actor of his professional and physical stature. But this - and onesteamy love scene featuring Monica Bellucci - ispretty much the only spark of interest that most international audiences willget out of Paolo Virzi's disappointingly parochialhistorical comedy.

Virzi, who solid track-record is based on a string ofsocially-committed comedies (Ovosodo, Caterina In The City) set in present-day Italy, fluffs the attempt to repeatthe mix in a historical drama, despite the input of veteran screenwriter Furio Scarpelli. In the end, inspite of its decent production values, this bipolar comedy-drama has "made forlocal consumption" written all over it.

Italian audiences willrespond to the home-grown talent (such as national treasure Monica Bellucci or leading man Elio Germano, Italy's latestnext big thing) and the local brand of sentimental comedy, but these will havelittle purchase abroad.

Even audiences in theco-production territories of Franceand Spainmay fail to respond. Audiences in the former can be touchy about outsidersmeddling with their historical icons (witness the controversy surrounding SofiaCoppola's take on Marie Antoinette at Cannesthis year); and while the portrait of Napoleon on Elba as a big fish in a verysmall pond is well drawn, the attempt to reclaim the Corsican-born emperor for Italy mayrankle.

Napoleon was sent into exileon the island of Elba in May 1814, after not only theallied powers but also most of his French subjects had turned against theno-longer infallible emperor. By the Treaty of Fontainebleau, he was assignedElba - an island of 12,000 souls just off the coast of Tuscany - as a sovereign principality. Notthat this background is made clear in film, which sees history from Elba's point of view.

Napoleon is greeted like a rockstar or a movie diva in this backwater of peasants,sailors and small-time merchants. The film's hero, Martino (Germano),is one of the few locals to resist the mass hysteria. We first see him as afiery school teacher, but his polemical diatribes against Napoleon as awarmonger who has trampled the cause of liberty soon get him the sack. Hedreams that he has a mission to assassinate the tyrant - and his plans aregiven an unexpected boost when he is appointed as clerk and librarian to thevertically-challenged emperor.

Elio Germano has had a solidstart to his acting career, winning plaudits for his performances as aconflicted late teen in Respiroand What Will Become of Us'. But herehe lacks the presence to paper over the cracks in the script, chief of which isthe failure to resolve a Jekyll-and-Hyde pull between committed historicaldrama and lightweight, Benigni-style sentimentalcomedy.

The latter mostly centres around the port town wherethe idealistic Martino lives with his shrewishlyneurotic sister Diamantina(Sabrina Impacciatore) and his business-orientedbrother Ferrante (Valerio Mastandrea), and the villa nearby owned by his richmistress Baroness Emilla (Monica Bellucci).

All of this tends toundermine the drama of the film's other story, which wants to be a parable abouthow the would-be assassin is seduced by the wily old ruler's charisma andfeigned shows of weakness, but which never quite gets the script or characterchemistry right.

We're left with an enjoyablesolo performance by Auteuilas a crafty old fox who is perfectly aware of his local clerk's firebrandreputation and rather enjoys the challenge of taming him. (Though historicalpurists will be put off by Auteuil's shaky Italian - as a Corsican, Napoleon would have grownup speaking an Italian-based rather than French-based dialect).

But Auteuilis on his own here; elsewhere, Virzi's direction ofhis actors looks uncertain, especially in a few comic conflict scenes thatappear to aspire to the Loachian school of improvisation,but actually descend into histrionic shouting matches.

Massimo Ceccherini,familiar to Italian audiences for his roles in Leonardo Pieraccioni'sbankable rom-coms, plays Diamantina's suitor,his mere presence signalling that we are in localcomedy territory.

Experienced production designerFrancesco Friggeri plays up the fairytale elements ofthis bucolic village-island, which is also emphasisedby obtrusive interior lighting with coloured filters.

A Beethoven's-greatest-hitssoundtrack (the composer had initially intended to dedicate the Eroica symphonyto the emperor) provides something for us to relax back into when the on-screenhumour gets too baffling.

Production companies/backers
Medusa Film
Babe Films
Alquimia Cinema

International sales

Italian distribution

Riccardo Tozzi
Giovanni Stabilini
Marco Chimenz

Furio Scarpelli
Giacomo Scarpelli
Francesco Bruni

Alessandro Pesci

Cecilia Zanuso

Production design
Francesco Frigeri

Paolo Buonvino
Juan Bardem

Main cast
Daniel Auteuil
Elio Germano
Monica Bellucci
Francesca Inaudi
Sabrina Impacciatore
Valerio Mastandrea
Massimo Ceccherini