Perhaps the first Italian film to be consciously aimed at a female audience, Cristina Comencini's fourth feature, "Follow Your Heart," is a professionally lensed drama about several generations of women and their complicated feelings for one another, based on Susanna Tamaro's widely translated novel. Rather than attempt to go deeper into the relationships etched by Tamaro and punctuated with banal "open the windows of your heart"-type aphorisms, Comencini and co-scripter Roberta Mazzoni simply flow with the easy-reading material. Sophisticated viewers may shiver at the film's unabashed sentimentality, but Italo auds have had no trouble digesting the women's magazine-style story.

Perhaps the first Italian film to be consciously aimed at a female audience, Cristina Comencini’s fourth feature, “Follow Your Heart,” is a professionally lensed drama about several generations of women and their complicated feelings for one another, based on Susanna Tamaro’s widely translated novel. Rather than attempt to go deeper into the relationships etched by Tamaro and punctuated with banal “open the windows of your heart”-type aphorisms, Comencini and co-scripter Roberta Mazzoni simply flow with the easy-reading material. Sophisticated viewers may shiver at the film’s unabashed sentimentality, but Italo auds have had no trouble digesting the women’s magazine-style story.

Pic is less stridently feminist and self-affirming than Marleen Gorris’ similarly themed “Antonia’s Line,” and — as title suggests — far more conventional in its view of women as creatures dominated first and foremost by their hearts. Interest in Tamaro’s bestselling novel will provide initial momentum for this Italian-French-German co-production. Though still in limited release, pic got off to a brisk $ 1.5 million opening week in Italy, a performance it could repeat in other territories.

When the aged Olga (Virna Lisi) dies a peaceful death in her villa outside Trieste, her granddaughter Marta (Valentina Chico) comes home from the U.S. and begins reading her diary. In flashback, we see Olga’s loveless marriage, as a young woman (Margherita Buy), to Augusto (Massimo Ghini); her passionate affair with a doctor at a health spa (Tcheky Karyo); his death in a car accident and the birth, shortly thereafter, of his child, Ilaria.

Ilaria grows into a neurotic young woman and has a daughter — Marta — out of wedlock. When Ilaria, too, dies in a tragic accident, Olga raises the little girl (Lavinia Guglielman) on her own.

This is the stuff melodramas are made of, but Comencini steers a determined course away from tears, preferring to engross the viewer (or bore her, as case may be) in the narrative complications of her heroines’ typically troubled lives.

Cinematographer Roberto Forza’s smooth, close-up lensing and Paola Comencini’s warm, emotionally cluttered sets contribute to a sense of being close to the rather thin characters. Veteran editor Nino Baragli impeccably splices together the endless stream of flashbacks into one easily grasped whole.

Cast is adequate, though, apart from Galatea Ranzi’s tormented and not too likable unwed mother, and Karyo’s seductively controlled lover, no one goes beyond stereotypes. Buy is breathlessly attractive in her incarnation of Olga as a frustrated 1950s housewife; as the older Olga, Lisi reprises the gray, wrinkled, maternally concerned look that won her the best actress award at Cannes last year in “Queen Margot.”

Follow Your Heart

Production

A Filmauro release in association with Nemo Cinematografica (in Italy) of a Videa (Italy)/GMT Prods. (France)/Project Filmproduktions (Germany) production. (International sales: Sacis.) Produced by Sandro Parenzo. Directed by Cristina Comencini. Screenplay, Roberta Mazzoni, Comencini, based on Susanna Tamaro's novel.

Crew

Camera (color), Roberto Forza; editor, Nino Baragli; music, Alessio Vlad, Claudio Capponi; art direction, Paola Comencini; costume design, Antonella Berardi; sound (Dolby), Jean-Louis Ducarme, Romano Pampaloni. Reviewed at Cinema Savoy, Rome, Jan. 12, 1996. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Mature Olga ... Virna Lisi Young Olga ... Margherita Buy Ilaria ... Galatea Ranzi Ernesto ... Tcheky Karyo Augusto ... Massimo Ghini Marta ... Valentina Chico
With: Lavinia Guglielman, Luigi Diberti, Anna Teresa Rossini.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more