Dir: Giovanni Veronesi.It. 2005. 91mins.

The big Italian successstory of 2005 so far, The Manual Of Love has taken over $15m in its fourweeks on release (almost double the total haul of Hitch). An episodic rom-comin the style of Love, Actually, the film is a cleverly populist littlenumber.

Its all-star cast seems tohave been chosen with a view to catching the widest audience, pairing veterancomic actor (and director) Carlo Verdone with every teen girl's favouriteboy-next-door heartthrob, Silvio Muccino, using TV comedienne LucianaLittizzetto as a bait for the couch potatoes, while holding out an olive branchto cineastes by casting serious actors like Margherita Buy (Out Of ThisWorld) and Jasmine Trinca (The Best Of Youth).

The script is equally cute,managing to suggest depths of irony by embedding the four stories within theframework of a rather woolly, New Age teach-yourself love manual. At the sametime it is happy to function as a real, low-irony teach-yourself love manualfor the dating couples who make up a large proportion of its Friday andSaturday night audience.

Italian audiences can take agood deal of sentiment with their comedy, and potential foreign buyers willalso be impervious to the strictly domestic pull of the cast. But this well-craftedloveboat may get some sort of theatrical outing in Mediterranean and LatinAmerican territories.

The film opens with a sceneof a voice actress recording a fragment of the Manuale d'Amore CD, to bepackaged with the best-selling book of the same name. The four chapters of thefilm are named after the four parts of this fictitious manual: Falling InLove, The Crisis, Betrayal and Abandonment.

In part one, Silvio Muccino(brother of director Gabriele) plays a likeable, lovestruck Roman lad who lays siegeto a reluctant paramour (Jasmine Trinca). Though train of consciousnessvoice-over and a long-suffering flatmate (played by MTV Italy presenterFrancesco Mandelli) provide comic ballast, this lightweight section is carriedmainly by the boyish charm of Muccino.

Part two features SergioRubini and Margherita Buy as a couple whose relationship is in crisis.Sensitively written, this episode delves convincingly into the petty frictionsand domestic irritations that can spring up in long-term relationships.

In Betrayal, LucianaLittizzetto plays a traffic warden who veers between inflexibility andcompassion in her professional life and in her understanding of her husband'sinfidelity.

The final section featuresthe always watchable Carlo Verdone in melancholic, Alberto Sordi mode as apaediatrician whose wife has left him; if it weren't for the obligatory happyending, this episode could easily have veered into darker territory.

Characters recur from oneepisode to the next, though it is only in the final two sections that theconnections set up between them feel any more than casual. Paolo Buonvino'sConte-like accordion and piano soundtrack provides a running ironic commentary,while snappy editing and poppy-bright colours make for a polished, ad-influencedlook.

Following on from lastyear's What Will Become Of Us' director Veronesi proves up to thechallenge of reaching out to a wide audience while retaining moments ofemotional intelligence - though some of the credit for this should also go toco-scripter Ugo Chiti, whose previous credits include the best Italian film of2002, L'Imbalsamatore.

Prod co: FilmAuro
Int'l sales:
It dist:
Aurelio De Laurentiis
Giovani Veronesi, Ugo Chiti
Tani Canevari
Prod des:
Luca Gobbi
Claudio Di Mauro
Paolo Buonvino
Main cast:
Carlo Verdone, SilvioMucino, Luciana Littizzetto, Sergio Rubini, Margherita Buy, Jasmine Trinca,Anita Caprioli