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The Gamebag

The first shots fired in former Yugoslavia ring out hollowly in Maurizio Zaccaro's "The Gamebag," a curious adventure story about three Italian hunters trapped in the outbreak of the war. Building its most exciting moments around the predicament of the foolhardy Italo tourists, rather than the dire fate awaiting the hapless natives, this well-shot pic is a strange animal, a breast-beating actioner. It is the first of a series of Clemi productions skedded for Buena Vista Intl. release in Italy and possibly beyond, though the latter looks mostly like TV sales. In Italy, BVI faces the challenge of penetrating a local marketplace where only simple-minded comedies have made money this season. It's 1991 and all hell is about to break loose in restless Yugoslavia when flight attendant Renzo (Massimo Ghini) convinces his teenage brother and a pilot friend to go deer hunting in the great outdoors across the Adriatic.

With:
Renzo ..... Massimo Ghini Paolo ..... Antonio Catania Roberto ..... Roberto Zibetti Rada ..... Paraskeva Djukelova Sportswriter ..... Leo Gullotta Boris ..... Javor Milushev

Packing their rifles in a roughshod station wagon, the trio drive off to adventure. They meet a first setback when their gamekeeper contact fails to materialize. Persuading his sullen daughter, Rada (Paraskeva Djukelova), to be their guide instead, they enjoy a few moments of idyllic wilderness before the pilot (a very believable Antonio Catania) is seriously wounded by an unseen rifleman. At this point film finally takes off in a nightmarish atmosphere of escalating danger.

In town, they rush the pilot to a hospital, which starts to fill up with silent, sad-faced refugees as bombs and machine-gun fire make the streets impassable. They are lucky to bivouac on the top floor of a hellish hotel, ducking bullets from a sniper across the street and easing the pilot’s pain with a bottle of cheap liquor.

As leader of the expedition, Ghini acts tough but is given nothing to do by the script. The young brother, played with airhead abandon by “Stealing Beauty’s” Roberto Zibetti, temporarily complicates matters by following Rada to what seems to be a Croatian war room, though film is as careful as the U.N. not to make it clear who’s shooting at whom.

Bulgarian thesp Djukelova, playing Rada with prickly glumness, is stiff in the film’s best role. Of mixed Serbo-Croatian origin, Rada is a bore of a symbol, and she becomes human only when planning an escape for the Italians and helping them make a desperate race for the airport, dodging missiles.

Though deliberately uninformative about the hows and whys of Serbo-Croatian fratricide, pic is a far cry from a Cannon-style exploitation film. Its attitude toward violence and atrocities is properly horrified, expressing Italians’ role in the war as self-important, scandalized observers.

This is underlined in a frame story in which Italian sportswriter Leo Gullotta, also trapped in Yugoslavia by the war but not as clueless, recounts the inglorious and basically inconsequential tale of the three hunters, a true footnote to history. Award-winning director Zaccaro (“Article 2,” “Kalkstein”) dips into the archives one last time to end with a chilling coda about a real-life sniper’s trial.

Lensed in Bulgaria on a modest budget, “The Gamebag” makes the most out of a few tanks, a few missiles and a lot of extras. Cinematographer Blasco Giurato uses dark, brooding forest colors throughout, suggesting the savagery of the war. Less on target is Pino Donaggio’s score, which in moments of greatest tension sounds bizarrely like something out of a 1950s sci-fi film.

The Gamebag

Italian

Production: A Buena Vista Intl. Italia release of a Clemi Cinematografica production in association with RAI-TV. Produced by Giovanni Di Clemente. Directed by Maurizio Zaccaro. Screenplay, Marco Bechis, Gigi Riva, Umberto Contarello, Zaccaro, with Lara Fremder.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Blasco Giurato; editor, Amedeo Salfa; music, Pino Donaggio; art direction, Paola Comencini; costumes, Laura Costantini; direct sound (Dolby digital), Luciano Fiorentini. Reviewed at Cinecitta, Rome, Feb. 12, 1997. Running time: 94 MIN.

With: Renzo ..... Massimo Ghini Paolo ..... Antonio Catania Roberto ..... Roberto Zibetti Rada ..... Paraskeva Djukelova Sportswriter ..... Leo Gullotta Boris ..... Javor Milushev

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