Dir: Gabriele Muccino. It-Fr-UK. 2003. 100mins.
Remember Me, Italian golden boy Gabriele Muccino's fourth film, exposes the terrifying moral and intellectual void at the heart of modern Italy. Unfortunately, it's not trying to - at least not very hard. Rather than channelling the emptiness to make a point about today's TV-fed, mobile-phone-driven Italian society, the script, and the characters, participate in it. This will not stop Remember Me from being as big a success as Muccino's previous outing, The Last Kiss (L'Ultimo Bacio), which surprised everyone by taking Euros 12.5 in 2001, finishing third overall behind Cast Away. Remember Me opens on 14 Feb on 600 screens, an almost unheard-of number for a home-grown product that is neither a low-grade comedy nor a film directed by Roberto Benigni.
But it is difficult to see this country-specific film doing much business abroad; that said The Last Kiss, which took the audience award in the world cinema sidebar at last year's Sundance, was sold to France and the US, where it took just over $1m from a limited five-screen release last August. Next Muccino turns his attentions to an English-language remake of the Ettore Scola film We Loved Each Other So Much (C'eravamo Tanti Amati).
A comedy-tinged drama about two different generations and their complementary crises, Remember Me offers a carbon copy of the middle-class urban Italian family of Nanni Moretti's The Son's Room - and here too, Laura Morante plays the highly-strung mother. In Moretti's film, though, the family's coddled, caring lifestyle was shattered by a death, so that the complacency of the first half made dramatic sense when seen in retrospect.
Here, the daughter's ambition to be a TV starlet, the mother's dream of being a serious actress, the son's adolescent uncertainty as to what he wants and the father's long-supressed literary ambitions are not strong enough dramatic levers to lift Muccino's film outside of the dull suburban milieu it inhabits; neither is the car accident that eventually brings the family back together.
As in Muccino's previous oeuvre, any cracks in the dramatic structure are papered over by some good old hollering: wife hollering at husband, mostly, but also son at mother and daughter at boyfriend. Perhaps aware that he has played this particular chord too insistently, the director brings up the lilting, Michael Nyman-like signature track to take the edge off some of the worst slanging-matches.
Along the way, however, there are some perceptive moments, including Muccino's attempt to get under the surface of Italy's feel-good generation, a move which is likely to find more favour with the 18-30 demographic than older audiences. He almost does it with one character, the starlet daughter Valentina - played by Nicoletta Romanoff - who exhibits a fascinating mixture of ambition, intellectual vacuousness and moral decency; but the script, and the director, are too indulgent with her. When she finally does her TV audition, miming to Geri Halliwell's Look At Me, it comes across not so much as a satire of the 15-minute-star machine as a celebration of it.
The same having-your-cake-and-eat-it feeling comes through in the casting of Pietro Tarricone - made famous by the Italian edition of Big Brother - as Valentina's rather nasty TV presenter boyfriend. If there is any irony here, then it is well buried. Still, the audience get to see Monica Bellucci as a working mum - all floppy cardigans and minimal make-up - and comes away with one important message: if you want to save a foundering marriage, try nagging your husband so much that he does himself an injury.
Prod co: Fandango
Co prod: Buena Vista International, Vice Versa Films
Int'l sales: The Works
It dist: Medusa Film
Prod: Domenico Procacci
Scr: Muccino, Heidrun Schleef
Cinematography: Marcello Montarsi
Prod des: Paola Bizzarri
Ed: Claudio Di Mauro
Music: Paolo Buonvino
Main cast: Monica Bellucci, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Laura Morante, Nicoletta Romanoff, Silvio Muccino, Gabriele Lavia