Dir/scr: Marco Bellocchio. It. 2006. 102mins.

After the compelling Red Brigade psycho-drama Good Morning, Night, Italian auteurMarco Bellocchio has returned to the hermetic,dreamlike mode of The Hour Of Religionwith his latest effort, in which a leading arthousedirector is talked into shooting a Sicilian wedding video. Occasionally comic,undeniably evocative, at times simmering with passion (though it peddles thedark-eyed Sicilian cliches), The WeddingDirector is a fitfully enjoyable but ultimately frustrating experience, afeature-length glimpse into a psyche that can't, or doesn't want to, melt downits obsessions into a fully-functioning drama.

Though Bellocchioalways posts respectable results on home territory, the film is unlikely to seea great deal of overseas action - except in cineaste France, where both thedirector and his lead actor are known quantities. It plays in Un Certain Regard at Cannes next month.

Bellocchio is a profoundly visual director, and although thereis a plot of sorts and a satirical subtext (with a series of barbs directed atthe contemporary Italian film industry), TheWedding Director works more on a subliminal level, making points aboutobserving and acting, passion and holding back, mental and physical prisons,through framing, imagery and montage rather than story and dialogue. Butwithout the historical anchor and dramatic urgency of Good Morning, Night to anchor it, Bellocchio'scinematic poetry drifts off into regions that mere mortals cannot reach.

It's typical of Bellocchio that he takes a synopsis that might have made adecent Hollywood comedy and turns it into an existential tone poem. On a beachin Sicily, Franco Elica (Castellitto),a 'serious' film director, meets Enzo Baiocco (Cariello), aloud-jacketed colleague and admiring fan who, lacking talent, makes a livingshooting wedding videos. The scene in which Elicaadvises Baiocco on how to give the video of twonewly-weds which he's currently shooting more of an artistic edge is absolutelyhilarious: Castellitto's restrained, deadpanperformance here tips over into outright comedy.

Watching the end result of il maestro's divine intervention,a mysterious, haughty Sicilian aristocrat, the Prince of Gravina(a nicely surreal-sinister character turn from French veteran Sami Frey) asks Elica to directthe wedding of his daughter Bona (Finocchiaro, oozingwide-eyed sensuality).

Elica becomes obsessed with passionate virgin Bona,conflating her in his mind with the Lucia of Italian classic novel I Promessi Sposi (TheBetrothed), which he is currently attempting to adapt for the screen. Elica's 'direction' of the wedding thus becomes an effortto direct Bona away from her gormless bridegroom and into his own arms.

In the end, though, The Wedding Director feels too much likea reprise of The Hour OfReligion. Once again, Sergio Castellitto plays acreatively blocked artist who seems adrift from the world, lost for words,emotionally autistic. Once again, Bellocchio airs hisdoubts about hardline Catholics; once again heobserves decadent aristocrats moving around inside empty stately homes.

What's new in TheWedding Director is Bellocchio's overt, oftensatirical reflections on cinema. There are a series of references, eithervisual or verbal, to Antonioni, Felliniand Visconti. Handycamwedding footage, black-and-white CCTV sequences and vintage film clips areedited into the main, narrative camera stream.

A satirical jab at the localfilm industry is delivered through the entertaining but fairly incidentalcharacter of Smamma (Cavina),a fellow director who has staged his own death in a last ditch attempt to cleanup at the annual David di Donatellocinema awards (here renamed David di Michelangelo).In The Caiman, NanniMoretti also sent up certain aspects of the Italianfilm trade; but Bellocchio's satirical barbs comeacross as personal grudges.

There's more meat in Bellocchio's cinematic craft than in his cinematiccritique: in purely visual terms, this is one of the director's most ravishingfilms to date, with Pasquale Mari's carefully composed photography at its mostcompelling in the scene where the Principe signs up Elica:we see the two of them on a balcony, distorted by the rippling glass of aFrench window; but when the door opens and they enter the room they are still alittle wavy - and it's only then that we realise that the camera itself isstill a room away, behind another window.

Production companies
Rai Cinema
Dania Film
Surf Film

International sales
Celluloid Dreams

Italian distribution
01 Distribution

Marco Bellocchio
Sergio Pelone

Pasquale Mari

Production design
Marco Dentici

Francesca Calvelli

Riccardo Giagni

Main cast
Sergio Castellitto
Donatella Finocchiaro
Sami Frey
Gianni Cavina
Bruno Cariello
Simona Nobili