Retirement would be a more dignified option for 80-year-old commedia all’italiana pioneer Mario Monicelli and his veteran screenwriting team than the embarrassing lifelessness of “Looking for Paradise.” Supposedly an ironic roller-coaster ride through Italy in the latter half of the 20th century as reflected in one woman’s life spanning 1949-2011, this clumsily scripted, ineptly made enterprise looks set for swift commercial oblivion.
Source is one of 18 fictitious biographies from Giuseppe Pontiggia’s book “Vite di uomini non illustri” (Lives of Non-Illustrious Men). Monicelli and his co-scripters(including veteran Suso Cecchi D’Amico) have attempted to flesh out a galloping life history, less than 20 pages long, into a full-fledged narrative without developing three-dimensional characters or establishinga tangible thread linking the key incidents in the protagonist’s life.
Subject of the chronicle is Claudia Bertelli (Margherita Buy), a child of the protest generation, born to upper-middle-class Milanese parents (Aurore Clement and Philippe Noiret), whose love for her veers between shocked disapproval and strained tolerance.
After a failed attempt at getting an English education, Claudia returns to Italy and becomes caught up in the student movement of the 1960s. Here she meets her first love (Dario Cassini), a raised-fist revolutionary who resurfaces years later as a disciple of corrupt Socialist Party head Bettino Craxi.
Segueing to feminist politics, Claudia becomes pregnant by an unknown father and surprises her folks by giving birth to a black baby. Later she marries a Jewish philosopher (Moni Ovadia) and, following her divorce, drifts into Third World pilgrimages, humanitarian work and New Age religion.
Flat and unamusing, pic fails to engage on any level, its stereotypical grasp of characters and events hopelessly locked in a style reminiscent of the ’60s comedies that saw Monicelli and his collaborators in their prime.
Performances suffer from poorly post-synched dialogue. Buy is affable enough as Claudia but rarelyconvincing. Her character never evolves beyond being merely a conduit for virtually every wind of sociopolitical change of her age.
Equally undeveloped is her main sidekick, a lovelorn loser from Calabria (Lello Arena). Emblematic of the underachieving proletariat, he eventually dies of an unknown, Af-rican-originated virus that later becomes widespread. Clement and Noiret sleepwalk through their roles as Claudia’s snooty but well-meaning parents.
Most surprising considering the technical expertise at hand is the sloppiness of the film’s execution. Tonino Delli Colli’s lensing is at best drab, at worst ugly; production design of period, present-day and future sequences is equally unimaginative, and the occasional, almost arbitrary intercutting of archive footage is unlikely to cause Oliver Stone any sleepless nights.