An unfeeling astrophysicist’s return to his roots unearths a long forgotten human side in “Moon Shadow.” Debuting Italo director Alberto Simone brings sincerity and noble intentions to this warmly emotional drama, but, while the film’s heart is clearly in the right place, its minor-key charms are compromised by superficially drawn characters, fanciful dialogue and cliched insights. Early buyer interest indicates that offshore auds may be more responsive than Italians to the sentiments of this modest, rather old-fashioned effort.
Momentarily dropping his research, Lorenzo (Tcheky Karyo) returns from Milan to his childhood home in rural Sicily, hoping to sell the family villa and get out fast. But restructuring work keeps him there longer than expected. Friction is sparked by his uptight Northern mentality, at odds with the unhurried Southerners, but he slowly forges a friendship with head repairman Salvatore (Nino Manfredi).
The latter lives in an alternative-therapy community for the mentally ill, where his son Agostino (Jim Van der Woude) is one of the patients. Lorenzo is gradually drawn into the activities of the community, finding an unexpected solidarity with the fragile personalities living there that forces him to see his own life from a new perspective.
Part of Lorenzo’s burgeoning self-discovery comes via the homespun philosophy of Salvatore. The repairman begins to take on a paternal significance for him, helping to heal the wound caused by his own father’s early death, which prompted his initial move north. Salvatore’s past is equally plagued by his failure to embrace Agostino as his son until late in the boy’s childhood.
Playing a dramatic role in a lightly comic key that perhaps traffics as heavily in his established screen persona as in anything in Simone’s script, Manfredi provides the film’s sturdiest flesh-and-blood element. The veteran thesp’s scenes are consequently the most moving.
Karyo’s character remains more remote, failing to invoke much sympathy. The metaphoric transition of his putting aside the telescope and turning his distant gaze inward could have been conveyed less insistently.
An attempt to show Lorenzo learning to give again through Luisa (Isabelle Pasco), a beautiful young patient for whom he feels an immediate affinity, is also unconvincing and mechanical. She remains little more than a psychotic grab bag of ill-defined father complexes and sexual traumas.
Simone’s own experience in psychotherapy (prior to a career directing commercials) lends the community scenes an authenticity that’s backed up by fine work from the actors, who manage to embody mental infirmity with gentle humor and restraint. This is enhanced by docu-like video inserts in which they discuss their dreams and obsessions. The same tack is overplayed, however, during a community concert in which the patients take the stage one by one to read their improbably perceptive personal reflections.
Made on a $ 2.2 million budget, the Italian indie production is a tidy operation right down the line. Roberto Benvenuti’s warm-toned widescreen lensing makes the most of the many pastoral vistas and rosy sunsets.