A chaste 17th-century bodice-ripper in which the absence of sex is as notable as the lack of plot invention, "The Bride's Journey" leans heavily on the thesping of comic lead Sergio Rubini (who directed) and gracious newcomer Giovanna Mezzogiorno. Though this lush Cecchi Gori production seems designed as family entertainment, it diplomatically co-opened the Venice Film Festival (with Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry") from the European side without loud protest or hosannas. While not an item for sophisticated viewers, pic should have wide enough appeal to recoup handsomely onshore and find scattered foreign takers. The fanciful tale of a crude illiterate who escorts a young noblewoman to her husband-to-be is a surprising turn for Rubini, hailed for his 1990 helming debut, "The Station." Porzia (Mezzogiorno), a spirited innocent with a porcelain face and awe-inspiring wardrobe, is sent off from her convent school in central Italy with the nuns' blessings. Her rich and noble fiance has sent an armed contingent of men led by a dashing captain (Carlo Mucari) to escort the girl to his home in the south. Before auds can tire of cinematographer Italo Petriccione's gorgeous, painterly landscapes, each recognizably inspired by Italian painters of the 1600s, bandits attack the caravan and dispatch the escort. Porzia has only Bartolo (Rubini), a humble young coachman of rough manners and dirty mien, with whom to continue the journey.
Their trip on horseback is picturesque and beset with every type of misadventure, from escaping the plague to being taken prisoner by leering soldiers who ogle Porzia’s candid cleavage. World-class seducer Don Diego (veteran thesp Umberto Orsini) makes a stab at her virginity. The only respectful fellow around is Bartolo, who never forgets his charge’s destiny as noble wife and mother. As it often does, a special chemistry develops between lady and stable hand, but fans of the genre will find juicier accounts in the tabloids than Rubini cares to put on the screen. A moralistic finale seals pic as safe family fare.Making a sparkling screen debut, young stage thesp Mezzogiorno cuts a memorable figure, in strategically loosened bodices and billowing skirts, galloping through the countryside. Wearing long hair and a drooping mustache, Rubini has fun mumbling his lines in imaginary antique dialect, but overdoes the comedy in a role where it would have been better left understated. Though hardly meant to be realistic, the film has a sharp eye for period detail, particularly probing in photographing the faces of the commoners. Brisk cutting by editor Angelo Nicolini keeps the characters on the move through visually stunning forests, rivers and waterfalls that pleasantly substitute for expensive sets. Germano Mazzocchetti’s rousing score contributes atmosphere.