Dir:Gianni Amelio. It-Ger-Fr. 2004. 115mins.

Thoughit was well received by the home crowd and the local media, who were desperatefor at least one good Italian film in competition at Venice this year, GianniAmelio's eagerly awaited The House Keys was a major disappointment tothe rest of us.

Atough and sombre director, whose Sicilian emigre tragedy The Way We Laughedwas a worthy Golden Lion winner at the 1998 festival, Amelio has delivered afilm that botches the attempt to deliver the slow build-up of emotionalpressure that is his structural trademark.

Basedon a true story recounted by Italian writer Giuseppe Pontiggia in his book BornTwice, this tale of a not particularly good, not particularly culturedyoung man's slow bonding with the mentally and physically disabled son herejected at birth, had the potential to develop into a moving odyssey.

Butalthough it has its moments of sensibility and truth, The House Keysleft this reviewer curiously cold. Kim Rossi Stuart and 16-year-old disabledactor Andrea Rossi deliver performances which are both authentic, in theirdifferent ways, but this is not enough to lift an almost plotless film thatwould have felt long at 60 minutes.

Arespectable Italian arthouse run is guaranteed, but despite the presence ofCharlotte Rampling, Amelio's cineaste kudos, and the sales muscle ofinternational distributor Lakeshore, this is not going to be an easy sell.

Gianni(Rossi Stuart) is an uncertain man of modest capacities who was unable to copewhen, 15 years previously, his wife died while giving birth to a baby, whichturned out to be handicapped (the boy's condition is never named, but itappears to be cerebral palsy).

Hefled, leaving the child in the care of his brother-in-law; and only now, yearslater, has he plucked up the courage to see his son Paolo. Gianni meets him forthe first time at Munich train station and accompanies him to a Berlinhospital, where Paolo goes every so often for treatment and rehab.

Thismuch we piece together from scattered clues; in the key handover scene at thebeginning, the sound was so muddy that several Italians in the audience wereforced to read the English subtitles.

RossiStuart, once a golden boy of Italian cinema but mostly absent from the bigscreen in the last few years, is persuasive as the small, provincial man who isnot sure that he can deal with this physical and emotional challenge.

Buthis performance is not backed up by the script, which moves the story forwardsin tiny spurts every 20 minutes or so, leaving Stuart with a fixed expression,somewhere between appalled and tearful, in the long drags in between.

Theidea, of course, is that the bonding is in the small stuff, the littleconversations, the smiles and tantrums and caresses of his son, who is playedwith unaffected openness by disabled first-time actor Andrea Rossi. But thissmall stuff lacks dramatic backbone, and ends up bogging down the wholeexercise.

Ramplingplays the mother of a more severely disabled patient at the hospital wherePaolo is being treated; though her character acts, in theory, both to stirGianni's conscience and to give him moral support, the two hardly connect, andRampling (talking in rather stilted Italian) disappears from sight before hercharacter has had time to make much impact.

Littlerelief comes from the photography, which is as drab as the settings (trains,hospital wards, anonymous boxy hotel rooms). Only at the end - which isunsentimental, but nevertheless moving - is there a sense of the emotionaljourney that this flawed film could have made; but by then it is too late.

Prodcos: RaiCinema, Achab Film, Pola Pandora Film Produktion, Arena Films
Int'l sales:
GianniAmelio, Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli
Prod des:
Giancarlo Basili
Main cast:
Kim Rossi Stuart, Charlotte Rampling, Andrea Rossi