Dir: Gabriele Salvatores.It. 2005. 98mins.

Gabriele Salvatores has taken a step back from thedramatic intensity of I'm Not Scared with Quo Vadis, Baby', arambling contemporary noir set in Bologna.

Based on the same-name novelby Grazia Verasani, the film is worth a look chiefly for its atmospheric HDcinematography and for its original private eye protagonist - an unglamorous,unkempt, anti-social woman on the cusp of forty, played by Italian rock singerAngela Baraldi, who looks like a cross between Patti Smith and ValeriaBruni-Tedeschi. As a thriller, though, the new Salvatores is curiously limp:the director appears more interested in the meta-cinematic mechanism of themystery than in pacing his thriller revelations for maximum effect.

The director's home fanbaseand Medusa's distribution muscle will ensure a reasonable run in Italy - whereit opened at the weekend - but Quo Vadis, Baby! will not attractanything like the same interest as I'm Not Scared from foreigndistributors.

Still, this modest three-million-euronoir is very much a filler for Salvatores while he readies his firstEnglish-language project, the Italo-Canadian co-production The Rules Of Love,based on the novel the Loves Of Judith by Israeli writer Meir Shalev.

A default spinster, defiantlyrough-edged Giorgia (Baraldi) works as a marital infidelity specialist for herfather's private investigation company. She lives alone with her cat, drinksmore than is good for her, and works out in a boxing gym.

One day she receives a packof video cassettes from a friend who is clearing out his storeroom; they're thevideo diaries of her younger sister Ada (Claudia Zanella), an aspiring actresswho committed suicide in Rome 16 years before. Emotionally cauterised by thezoom lens snooping she does for a living, Giorgia finds painful feelings andmemories reawakened by her obsessive viewing of her sister's rather histrionic,over-strung video confessions. And she also begins to suspect that Ada may nothave killed herself at all: she may have been murdered.

Tourist Bologna, with itsleaning Medieval towers, is seen only in an initial placing shot; otherwisethis is a city of closed spaces - apartments, restaurants, clubs and offices.Even the pavements are roofed over by long arcades - whose eerie echoes areused to crank up the tension as Giorgia walks home alone.

Working in high-definitiondigital, cinematographer Italo Petriccione gives certain scenes an enjoyablenoir feel, with strong chiaroscuro and a chromatic sale reduced to black andgold, or blue and yellow.

But Quo Vadis, Baby!has too many undigested visual ideas. There are a series of fairly gratuitouscinematic references (including the line that gives the film its title, whichis spoken by Brando in Last Tango In Paris). There are Ada's video diaryinserts, which begin Super-8 naif and end up self-consciously artsy. There'sthe droll neo-western style of the rock and roll trailer-cafe where Giorgiameets a dishy police detective (Renzi) who inexplicably has the hots for her.And there's the scene where Giorgia meets her other love interest, mediastudies professor Andrea Berti (Gigio Alberti), against the floor-to-ceilingmonitors of a giant video-installation.

The end result is ambitiousbut uneven: we yearn for the unity of style of I'm Not Scared, with itsappetisingly twisted view of Italy's rural past.

The same unevenness comesthrough in the structure of the film, which keeps getting distracted by minorcharacter studies (Giorgia's facetious student assistant Lucio, Ada's bestfriend Anna, who has ended up in soft porn) and loses sight of the centralmystery.

By the time the finalrevelation comes, we've kind of lost interest in the question of whether or notAda topped herself - though the visually-striking final scene makes the pointthat maybe Giorgia is losing interest too, and maybe this is a good thing.

But there's always somethingto take home from the latest Salvatores, and here the goody-bag includes asoundtrack that mixes Bach-style fugues with post-punk classics from the likesof Ultravox and Talking Heads; Angela Baraldi's unshowy, authentic headlineperformance; and the original tone of this low-budget thriller in Bolognesesauce.

Prod cos
Colorardo Film

Int'l sales/It dist

Maurizio Totti

Gabriele Salvatores
Fabio Scamoni
based on the novel by Grazia Verasani

Italo Petricccione

Prod des
Rita Rabassini

Claudio Di Mauro

Ezio Bosso

Main cast
Angela Baraldi
Gigio Alberti
Claudia Zanella
Luigi Maria Burruano
Andrea Renzi
Elio Germano