Veteran Italo helmer Luigi Magni, perhaps the finest chronicler of life in 19 th century papal Rome, returns to the screen after a long absence with a worthy addition to his tales of yesteryear. Old-fashioned enough to have been made 30 years ago, “La Carbonara” tosses its head haughtily at newfangled cinema to craft a pleasant historical drama around a beautiful innkeeper, known as La Carbonara for her spaghetti specialty. Pic has scored big in Rome, where auds laugh out loud at Magni’s malicious dialogue in Roman dialect. Offshore interest will be limited to lovers of period reconstruction centered on a strong heroine.
No character in the film misses the pun between the carbonara spaghetti that Cecilia (Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere) cooks and the revolutionaries of the day, who belong to the Carbonari secret society and risk their lives to unite Italy in a republic. The police, in the service of the Vatican, raid La Carbonara’s inn regularly and, when they capture subversives, cut their heads off for the bounty.
Cecilia’s old flame Zaccaria (Fabrizio Gifuni) is taken prisoner, but his life is spared through her intercession with a liberal cardinal (Nino Manfredi) and through a humanitarian ruse by a handsome young monk, Fabrizio (Valerio Mastrandrea).
La Carbonara is the kind of role actresses kill for, and Lante Della Rovere, in her most mature perf so far, has the flaming eyes and razor-sharp tongue to do it full justice. Her iron-willed heroine is as down to earth as the great Roman thesp Anna Magnani, who is clearly a model for her acting and an inspiration for the character.
Known for his radical anticlericalism, helmer Magni is less ferocious than usual with Manfredi’s doddering old cardinal, who is seen as part of a larger system of privilege. But pic gets in a few good punches at contempo Italo politics, with disdainful playing of the two erstwhile young heroes by Gifuni and Mastrandrea, as ex-revolutionary turncoats and victims of pious religious illusions. Pic is a little kitschy in its pursuit of 19th century color, with eccentric foreign artists, minstrels and bandits roaming about the countryside, but Nicola Piovani’s score establishes a relaxing romantic mood.