Dolce Far Niente” (literally, “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing”) is how French writer Stendhal saw Italian life during his two years of roaming the country in the early 19th century. And it is just the mood of Nae Caranfil’s pleasant and playful movie in which patriotic aristocrats hobnob with bandits and (imaginary) jolly encounters take place between Stendhal and Italian opera composer Rossini. Witty characters and lively atmosphere take pic up a big notch from the TV costumer it initially promises to be, giving it some fest legs and theatrical chances before higher-class ancillaries claim their prize.
Adapting Frederic Vitoux’s novel, “The Comedy of Terracina,” Romanian helmer Caranfil takes a colorful, outsider’s look at southern Italy, where the action is set. Stendhal (Francois Cluzet), then known as plain Henri Beyle and still searching for his path in life, is a young gentleman-adventurer who spends a few nights in the house of melancholy Count Nencini (Giancarlo Giannini) while he waits for the army to clear out a nest of bandits so he may continue his travels. At the count’s, Stendhal lusts for a young widow, Giuseppina (mysterious Isabella Ferrari), but is too indecisive a seducer.
The count entertains secret political sympathies in favor of the local brigands, and Stendhal soon finds himself embroiled in a tangled plot of political and amorous intrigues suitable for a Rossini opera.
Cluzet is warm and winning as the future great writer, but his role as a passive observer gives him little to do but make clumsy blunders. Although a lot actually happens in the film, there is no clearly defined line of action to move the story forward. Result is a tale that tends to linger in atmospheric taverns and drawing rooms.
Among the amusing characters are the count’s spirited revolutionary wife, Gabriella (Margherita Buy, in one of her brightest perfs), who appears accompanied by the cowardly celebrity, Rossini (an over-earthy Pierfrancesco Favino). Unlike Stendhal, Rossini has no problems with women and is soon bedding a spell-casting serving wench (Teresa Saponangelo), who is instrumental in the operatic final plot twist. Tech work is quality throughout.