Felice ….. Antonio Albanese
Nora ….. Sabrina Ferilli
Migliori ….. Luca Zingaretti
Rambaldi ….. Giuseppe Cederna
Mariska ….. Elena Ghiaurov
Doctor ….. Dario Cantarelli
Ballaro ….. Turi Ferro
Rocco ….. Lello Arena
Vincenzo ….. Steve Spedicato
1st kidnapper ….. Orio Scaduto
2nd kidnapper ….. Ludovico Calderera
3rd kidnapper ….. Roberto Fuzio
Returning to the novellas and characters of Luigi Pirandello, which inspired their 1984 collection of Sicilian stories, “Kaos,” Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have crafted a smaller, simpler and generally more satisfying film than any of their recent work with “You’re Laughing.” Typically of Pirandello, the morals remain elusive in this pair of melancholy, often poignant tales that deal quietly and idiosyncratically with violence. Despite the two stories’ uneven level of accomplishment, the widely pre-sold film should open its share of arthouse doors.
Pic was originally planned as a three-parter, but its opening episode — starring favored Taviani brothers thesp Omero Antonutti and based on an autobiographical Pirandello story — was dropped from the release version after being shot and edited. The heart of the film now is the lovely, hourlong opening story, “Felice,” distinguished by a moving performance from cabaret and theater actor Antonio Albanese, whose gifts already were apparent in his directing debut , “Freshwater Man.”
Set in 1930s Rome, it tells of former opera baritone Felice (Albanese), now unhappy in his marriage and in his accounting job at the Teatro dell’Opera. Each night, however, he laughs uproariously in his sleep but is unable to remember the dreams that prompt his mirth. Convinced his laughter is caused by dreams of sexual cavorting and other dishonest behavior, his angry Russian wife (Elena Ghiaurov) abandons him.
When Felice dreams of participating in the daily humiliation that his crippled co-worker, Rambaldi (Giuseppe Cederna), endures at the hands of an arrogant opera director (Luca Zingaretti), and then discovers the man has committed suicide, his misery becomes too much. He sets about to avenge Rambaldi’s death and then take his own life. But while preparing to drown himself in the sea, Felice meets former chorus girl Nora (Sabrina Ferilli), briefly reawakening love and his past triumph as a singer.
While it doesn’t quite match the resonance of the best vintage Taviani films, this playful, touching episode is infinitely more rewarding than the ponderous historical sagas the brothers have been churning out of late, and one wonders why they didn’t expand it to feature length. Much of the credit is due Albanese, superb as both clown and tragedian. Perhaps a little miscast here, Ferilli is delightful nonetheless, bringing a warmth and lightness to the piece that deceptively prepares the way for a happy outcome that is not to be.
In one of the directors’ rare forays into the present day, the less interesting second episode, “Two Kidnappings,” opens in contemporary Sicily. The initially confusing scenario involves the preteen son (Steve Spedicato) of a Mafia turncoat who is being held hostage by a seemingly compassionate mob flunky (Lello Arena) in a failed attempt to deter his father from naming names.
Borrowing from a notorious crime of a few years back in its shocking outcome, the story serves as a frame for a Pirandello tale concerning a kidnapping gone awry that takes place in the same location 100 years earlier. Veteran stage actor Turi Ferro’s astute reading as the kidnap victim who adapts to the situation and becomes a teacher and surrogate father to his new family of abductors gives the latter story a lift, but the episode’s past-and-present parallels feel forced and clumsy.
While the modest production lacks the visual impact of other Taviani pics, regular lenser Giuseppe Lanci’s often highly composed frames and unnatural use of light and color suit the whimsical, borderline surreal tone of the dark fables. Roberto Perpignani’s editing could at times be more fluid, but other contributions such as sets, costumes and Nicola Piovani’s rich orchestral music (combined with helpings of Rossini) are well judged.