Dir: Luca Lucini. Italy. 2004. 102 mins.
Federico Moccia's novel Tre Metri Sopra Il Cielo (which translates as 'Three Steps Over Heaven') was a real teen phenomenon in Italy: first published in 1992, it soon went out of print, but high-school students continued to circulate photocopied copies of the work - one of which eventually found its way into the hands of producer Riccardo Tozzi at Cattleya.
A contemporary, Rome-set variation on the age-old 'nice girl falls for rough boy' story, Moccia's book is no literary classic; but it has a solid teen appeal that is echoed faithfully in the film version, with its obtrusive indie rock soundtrack and its slick, pop-promo production values.
The teen market is not one that is often targeted by homegrown Italian productions; but with the marketing and distribution muscle of Warner Italia, which boarded the project at the pre-production stage, this feature debut by commercials director Luca Lucini should have no problems recouping its modest Euros 2.5m budget.
It may be shackled, though, by its own energetic pursuit of the 13-25 demographic; unlike Caterina Va In Citta, another recent Italian high-school movie, Tre Metri Sopra Il Cielo has only limited crossover appeal for older audiences, and is a shade too conventional, and too rooted in local youth culture, to work well abroad.
Lucini sets out his stall right from the start. The opening credits roll over footage of a speeding motorbike wheel while a radio DJ jive-talks in the background; and we know that this is going to be a film in which style and pace and the right soundtrack will count as least as much as less teen-oriented values such as character development or original dialogue.
The film's Juliet is Babi, a rich kid in her last year at a Roman collegio, or private high school. Her Romeo is Step, a leather-jacketed biker who plays down his own not entirely working-class origins by beating people up, hanging out with some pretty shady characters, and crashing parties held on the kind of protected, high security garden estates where people like Babi live.
Step turns out to be quite a romantic, but hides his true feelings for Babi by playing the hard man at first, and it takes a couple of setbacks and a high-adrenaline night at the illegal motorbike races before they finally become an item. But the potential for conflict is still there: Step is being taken to court by a guy whose nose he kind of accidentally broke, and only Babi - the sole witness - can get him off the hook.
Babi, meanwhile, has problems with her parents (especially her mother) and one particularly menopausal high-school teacher (Step's solution is to kidnap the teacher's dog and hold it hostage until Babi gets through her final exams).
Riccardo Scamarcio, who had a small role in The Best Of Youth, is a convincing rebel without a cause as Step, tough and vulnerable, his rough-edges just air-brushed enough to provide that safe, rough-trade frisson for the teenage girl audiences he is being fed to. London-born, Milan-bred Katy Louise Saunders, who plays Babi, carries the part reasonably well, though the occasional line of dialogue (not the film's strong point) rings false.
Snappy editing (particularly during the bike races) and some effective though hardly original style tricks (merry-go-round camera for the first kiss, an eerie, blue-lit midnight swimming pool scene) make the film look a little richer than its budget.
The standalone soundtrack - which ranges from British and US indie acts like Lamb and Grandaddy to Italian teen idol Tiziano Ferro and band-of-the-moment Le Vibrazioni - should give the film some useful radio exposure. And the re-issued novel - now in the hands of Feltrinelli, a major Italian publisher - has been selling like hotcakes.
In the end, the film's able marketing of the pains and joys of first love may prove too contrived for older cinemagoers. But it probably helps to be 18.
Production co: Cattleya, Warner Italia, MTV Films Europe
It dist: Warner Bros
Prods: Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini, Marco Chimenz
Scr: Federico Moccia, Teresa Ciabatti, based on Moccia's novel of the same name
Cine: Manfredo Archinto
Prod des: Marco Belluzzi
Ed: Fabrizio Rossetti
Music: Francesco De Luca, Alessandro Forti
Main cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Katy Louise Saunders, Mauro Meconi, Maria Chiara Augenti, Claudio Bigagli, Galatea Ranzi