Also with: Mariangela D’Abbraccio, Gianni Musy, Ugo Conti, Antonio Juorio, Massimo Pittarello, Laura Roncaccia.
“For Love, Only For Love” is an offbeat Christmas film in which St. Joseph gets top billing over the Virgin Mary, and baby Jesus doesn’t even appear in the credits. Fabricated biopic about the practically unknown Joseph features piquant casting of comedian Diego Abatantuono and Spanish starlet Penelope Cruz that largely overcomes a trite storyline. Pic’s money-making run in Italy since late last year could be duplicated elsewhere, given the tale’s universal appeal.
However, for those looking for an uplifting Bible yarn, “For Love” may seem a bit lacking in piety. There’s very little of the divine, though the brief appearance of a glowing boy Jesus confirms the film’s underlying orthodoxy. Helmer Giovanni Veronesi’s superficial treatment of the gospels is mainly aimed at entertainment, where it scores.
An unlikely saint, Abatantuono (the macho Sgt. Lo Russo in “Mediterraneo”) is an imposing thesp with fiery eyes and a blustering tone which he easily turns into laughs. He spends a restless youth traveling around Palestine with faithful sidekick Socrates (Alessandro Haber), until the two set up a carpentry shop outside the bustling town of Nazareth.
Though mightily attracted by the ladies, Joseph finds a steady date in retired Syrian courtesan Dorotea (Stefania Sandrelli, caricaturing her seductress roles). His heart is steadily drawn, though, to an eight-year-old tomboy, Mary. Years later, she turns up at the more suitable age of 14 or so, played with defiant splendor by Penelope Cruz.
Against her guardian’s wishes, Mary has set her sights on Joseph, and much screen time is devoted to their comical courtship. Just when things look arranged, Mary mysteriously disappears for several months. Her pregnancy is traumatic for everyone concerned, but as the villagers believe Joseph is the father, his face is saved and they marry anyway.
Oddly, pic shuns all the Famous Moments: no Annunciation (just Mary’s word it happened), no Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem (just a bunch of locals staring at the newborn in a manger). Poor Joseph never has a divine revelation to help him accept a life of celibacy; in the end, he goes mad, even while claiming to believe that Mary’s son is God.
In an exceptionally fine perf, Haber brings to life the undocumented character of Joseph’s assistant (who also narrates the story), as well as rounding out Joseph’s private life with a strong and convincing friendship. As Mary, Cruz transforms her natural sex appeal into an intense but chaste passion. She makes a spirited match for Abatantuono, who slips into pathos for film’s quiet finale.
Technically, pic is a pleasure to watch. Tunisian locations double dramatically for Palestine under Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s straightforward lensing.