Dir: Maria Sole Tognazzi. Italy. 2008. 97 mins.
Maria Sole Tognazzi's second feature, which opened this year's Rome Film Festival, has the merit of offering a rarely-seen woman's take on a man's experience of love. But behind the smokescreen of its play with the audience's gender expectations and its tricksy (but predictable) temporal structure, this is a slow-motion traditional melodrama, lifted above the level of television only by a handful of committed performances, some moody photography, and a lush soundtrack by Sicilian pop singer and composer Carmen Consoli.
Tognazzi's film looks likely to appeal at home to the same midscale urban audiences which find Ferzan Ozpetek appealing. The casting of Pierfrancesco Favino (a more rugged Italian Mark Ruffalo) and Monica Bellucci, coupled with a vigorous marketing campaign from Medusa, should steer it to a middling opening and it may have some legs as a date movie, but The Man Who Loves is unlikely to do serious business.
Tognazi and Ivan Cotroneo's screenplay follows handsome, sexy, sensitive Turinese pharmacist Roberto through his relationships with two women - hotel desk manager Sara (Russian actress Rappoport) and art gallery curator Alba (Bellucci). His affair with Sara ends because she's not in love with him; he dumps Alba because he's not in love with her. We cotton on pretty soon to the fact that, although Alba follows Sara on the screen, she actually preceded her in Roberto's life.
What fills in the dots is a genuine but rather laborious attempt to enter into the everyday intimacies of two lopsided love affairs from the man's point of view. We track Roberto - played sensitively by Favino - as he passes from contentment through jealousy to the pain of loss with Sara, and then, with Alba, from unease through confusion to the moment when he ditches her to save himself from living a lie. Minor characters - like Roberto's gay brother Carlo (Alaique), his parents (Esposti and Ninchi) with their old, lived-in relationship, or his stern-but-kind employer Dr Campo (Paredes, treading water in the film's most overtly comic role) all have their own stories to tell and advice to give about love - which they do in show-stopping soliloquies.
It all feels like an Italian version of a 'serious' Woody Allen film, but without the wit or the tight control of story and dramatic turning points. Cinematographer Arnaldo Catinari captures Turin's mixture of architectural elegance and forbidding urban blankness fairly well, though there are times (as in a cliched round-the-table lunch shot) when you wish he'd keep the camera still. And Consoli's torchy, slow-build strings, guitar and sax soundtrack is never short on atmosphere.
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