LeeMarshall in Rome
Dir: Stefano Mordini. Italy. 2005. 107mins.

The only Italian film in competition at Berlin this year, Smalltown,Italy depicts a bleak, post-industrial, dysfunctional Bel Paese that is along way from the tourist postcard cliches. Though the film is not without itsflaws, this is a promising debut for first-timer Mordini, a 37-year-olddirector with several documentaries and videoclips to his name.

Somewill find the ultra-laconic dialogue and story structure frustrating, butMordini and co-screenwriter Silvia Barbera have come up with an original, moodytake on the old theme of smalltown stagnation and provincial alienation.

InItaly Medusa have been promoting the film energetically, and are no doubthoping that Berlin buzz and the pulling-power of leads Stefano Accorsi and (toa lesser extent) Valentina Cervi will justify the roll-out of 180 copies athome from this weekend: a fair number for a dark and relatively "difficult"little film by an unknown director.

Overseas,where the leads mean little or nothing, Smalltown, Italy will need torely on good festival and specialist exposure if it is to reach wideraudiences.

TheItalian title is more evocative than the film's English tag, nodding at AClockwork Orange ("Arancia Meccanica" in Italy) and establishingtwo of the main facts about the world inhabited by young married couple Marco(Accorsi) and Silvia (Cervi).

First,they are in the sticks, both geographically and socially; second, they areprisoners of a mechanical society. The Adriatic town of Ravenna may be famousfor its Byzantine mosaics, but it is also home to a sprawling industrialhinterland of oil refineries, petro-chemical plants and container ports,flanked by anonymous dormitory suburbs. And Marco and Silvia are on the edgeeven of this decentred universe: kids with kids, they sleepwalk through life,she failing to be a good housewife or mother, and constantly reminded of herfailings by an overbearing mother; he moving between a brain-dead docks job andbrain-dead game-console home entertainment.

Whena social worker steps in to assign the couple's eldest daughter Sonia to hergrandmother, Marco and Silvia go into a spiral of apathy and self-damage whichis only resolved in a fragile deus-ex-machina ending.

Accorsihas come a long way since he came to fame as the fresh-faced boy in theice-cream ad. A string of drama-romances (The Last Kiss, Ovunque Sei,L'Amore Ritrovato) have established his actorly credentials; but it'sstill a little difficult, at first to believe that a face more usually cast asa spoilt bourgeois mummy's boy could make a convincing forklift truck driver.

Still,Accorsi's performance as a genial loser who is oblivious to the mess thatsurrounds him grows on one, and Valentina Cervi, a difficult actress who can beover-mannered in the wrong hands, benefits from the director's understatedstyle. This is very much a mood piece, enhanced by Italo Petriccione's dark andpainterly photography and Fabio Barovero's melancholy minor-chord soundtrack.

Thetone turns pretentious a couple of times - we might have been spared the petiguana and the sad magician - but overall this is a convincingly stylish debutfrom a director who could easily, from the look of things, be on his third orfourth film.

Prodcos: MedusaFilm, Sky, Kamera Film
Int'l sales:
Adriana Chiesa Enterprises
It dist:
SilviaBarbera, Stefano Mordini
Prod des:
Tommaso Bordone
Main cast:
Stefano Acccorsi, Valentina Cervi, Ivan Franek, Miro Landoni, SilviaPasello