Dir: Manetti Bros. Italy2006. 105mins.
Italy long ago lost the talent for genre film-makingthat made it such a commercial force in the 1960s and 1970s. But a few bravesouls, like the Manetti brothers, are trying to kicksome life into the old corpse. The Rome-based brothers' first feature, thetrash horror parody Zora La Vampira,was spoiled by its lack of narrative focus and its slushy social conscience.Their follow-up, Piano 17 - which roughlytranslates as 17th Floor -is a much tighter product, a claustrophobic time-lock thriller about threepeople stuck in an office lift with a ticking bomb.
Made on a budget of only Euros65,000, the film is technically uneven, with some muddy lighting and grainymini-DV camerawork. But it has good dramatic structure, and its three centralcharacters develop from cardboard cut-outs into something a little morethree-dimensional as the incendiary timer counts down to zero.
A crowd-pleaser during itspremiere at the Noir In Festival Thrillerfestin Courmayeur last year, the film has been given asuburb-slanted limited release by expanding Italian distributor Moviemax. While it is unlikely to set Italy's cinemas onfire, it should build up some word-of-mouth action. It won't travel much - butin the right hands, it has definite remake potential and deserves to drawattention from English-language remake scouts.
A dull diorama pan acrossthe rooftops and cupolas of Rome's centro storico establishes the setting - but in fact the EternalCity of tourist fame plays little part in the action, which is mostly confinedto the edge-of-town office block where self-regarding secretary Violetta (Rocchetta) and companydoormat Meroni (Soleri) areheading home for the evening.
The man in the lift withthem looks like a regular guy, but we know he's really Mancini (co-scripter Giampaolo Morelli), a gangsterwith a briefcase bomb in his cleaning trolley that is set to explode in exactly90 minutes' time.
When the lift gets stuckbetween floors, the stakes are set as the bomb is one of those handy cinematicdevices whose timer, for some unknown reason, can't be turned off. Twoaccomplices, Pittana (Silvestrin)and Borgia (Iuorio), waitin a car outside.
Taking itstime - sometimes dragging its feet - the film cuts between the tense threesomein the lift, the odd couple in the car and a series of flashbacks that fill inthe background and shed light on the rifts in this happy band of criminalbrothers.
It's a well-meshed exercisewith some enjoyable plot twists and a nice line in self-deprecating humour. Andalthough the film's tight budget shows through at times, Piano 17 has a verve and self-confidence that irons over the visualcracks.
The film's bid fortheatrical resonance is helped along by Pivio andAldo De Scalzi's moody soundtrack, which mixes noirish sax lilts with underground, ethno-tinged breakbeats.
Anatole Pierre Fuksas
Pivio and Aldo De Scalzi