Dir:Roberto Ando. It-Switz. 2004. 105 mins.

Asurprise choice as closing film for this year's Cannes Critics' Week, StrangeCrime is a frustratingly unresolved erotic thriller about false identityand dark secrets from hardworking Italian indie director Roberto Ando. Mostmemorable for its steamy sex scenes between Daniel Auteill and Anna Mougalis,which take us back to the good old days when European arthouse cinema was soldabroad as soft porn for intellectuals, the film suffers when it lets its plot,as well as its characters, become overheated.

Thoughmajority-produced in Italy, the film was shot in French, and this, togetherwith Auteuil's Gallic pulling-power, may translate into better results inFrance than in Italy, where the film has taken a lacklustre Euros 456,435 fordistributor Medusa since its Feb 27 release.

Outsideof Francophone Europe and Poland - where parts of the film are set - StrangeCrime is unlikely to get more than the most perfunctory theatricaldistribution, but its auxiliary prospects are a shade better. It's the sort offilm that would benefit from being rewound a couple of times, especiallytowards the end, when it gets difficult to unpick the whos, whys and whens ofan increasingly rococo storyline.

Thestory - about a successful writer who is being blackmailed by the daughter of adead colleague whose manuscript he may or may not have appropriated to launchhis career 20 years before - is intriguing at first. But eventually it losesits way, as one plot twist too many is introduced, one variation too many isplayed on the theme of the false and the authentic.

Thefirst 10 minutes of the film wind up the plot strings in classic noir manner.Daniel Boltanski (Auteuil), a successful novelist who writes under thepseudonym of Serge Novak, is on his way to Capri for his stepson's marriage. Onthe boat, he exchanges sultry glances with Mila (Mouglalis), a leggy brunette,and before long they are holed up in a hotel room somewhere on the holidayisland. Next day, Boltanski/Novak discovers that his one-night-stand is noneother than stepson Fabrizio's bride.

There'sa promise in this solid premise that old noir hands like Hitchcock, ReneClement or the Coen brothers would have milked enjoyably for all it was worth;but Ando and Marcarelli's script goes off at a tangent, sidelining (and finallyforgetting all about) stepson Fabrizio and developing instead into a tale ofblackmail that makes the tight intro largely irrelevant.

Muchis made of Boltanski's obsessive hiding behind his pseudonym (only his agentand those closest to him are in on the secret) and the camera too plays on thischord, invading privacy by peeping voyeuristically through windows and doors.Auteuil does Boltanski with that fastidious, world-weary, slightly disgustedface that we know and love, and Mouglalis is an efficient femme fatale.

Butby the end both seem a little bemused by the twists and creaks of theoverloaded storyline, which roams over three countries (Italy, Switzerland,Poland) and takes on the Holocaust, the pressure of literary creativity,problems of identity, deceit and self-deceit, and so on, but fails to meldthese disparate themes and inspirations into a wholly satisfying thriller.

Still,it is good to see Greta Scacchi back, in the full bloom of matronhood,reminding us that she can act, with a decent performance as Auteil-the-writer'slong-suffering wife. And there is a noirish style and edginess to parts of thisfilm - underscored by Ludovico Einaudi's effectively spare soundtrack - that keepsthreatening to develop into something good.

Prodcos: TittiFilm, Medusa Film, Vega Film (Switz)
It dist:
Medusa Film
Int'l sales:
Vision International, +33 1 4694 8808, vision-international@wanadoo.fr
RobertoAndo, Salvatore Marcarelli
Prod des:
Andrea Crisanti
Claudiodi Mauro
Main cast:
Daniel Auteuil, Anna Mouglalis, Greta Scacchi