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Light of My Eyes

Accomplished craftsmanship and two of the finest actors to emerge in Italian cinema of recent years are unable to rescue the problematic "Light of My Eyes," which represents a considerable disappointment after director Giuseppe Piccioni's well-observed and affecting 1999 feature, "Not of This World."

Cast:
Antonio - Luigi Lo Cascio Maria - Sandra Ceccarelli Saverio - Silvio Orlando Lisa - Barbara Valente Mario - Toni Bertorelli

Accomplished craftsmanship and two of the finest actors to emerge in Italian cinema of recent years are unable to rescue the problematic “Light of My Eyes,” which represents a considerable disappointment after director Giuseppe Piccioni’s well-observed and affecting 1999 feature, “Not of This World.” Overlong and overloaded not only with indigestibly prose-like dialogue but with literary voiceovers and a beautiful but maddeningly overused score, this misconceived story of everyday people unable to fit comfortably into society takes itself far too seriously, ultimately seeming too precious and self-consciously poetic. Mixed critical reception hints at an uncertain commercial fate domestically, while foreign outlook for the verbose drama — which won Best Actor and Best Actress awards at Venice for Luigi Lo Cascio and Sandra Ceccarelli — appears dim.

Promising setup has lenser Arnaldo Catinari’s extremely mobile widescreen camera cruising the busy streets of Rome, picking out random faces and details. It homes in on Antonio (Lo Cascio) a sweet-natured chauffeur heading home by car, who narrowly misses hitting Lisa (Barbara Valente), a young girl out on the street alone at night. When her anxious mother Maria (Ceccarelli) rushes to the scene, Antonio is immediately drawn to the frosty woman.

He starts turning up at the frozen food store she runs, striking up a friendship with Lisa and eventually finding a small gap in the wall with which Maria surrounds herself. She sleeps with him but soon after dismisses it as a mistake that won’t be repeated. Antonio remains devoted, however, learning of her financial difficulties and anxieties about losing custody of Lisa (one of several muddy plot points).

The least convincing major character is Saverio (Silvio Orlando), a cynical small-time loan shark with a crooked sideline in immigrant housing, to whom Maria owes a large amount of money. Antonio arranges anonymously to cover her debt, somewhat implausibly being taken on as Saverio’s driver and general lackey. Antonio is an obsessive collector and reader of sci-fi novels, and Piccioni — scripting with Umberto Contarello and Linda Ferri, who was a writer on Nanni Moretti’s “The Son’s Room” — attempts to mirror his martyr’s odyssey via the story of a fragile alien in a parallel dimension, excerpted frequently in voiceover. But the device wears thin after a while, contributing to a cumbersome case of literary and verbal overkill.

While both Ceccarelli and especially Lo Cascio — who first gained attention, respectively, in “The Profession of Arms” and “The Hundred Steps” — are strong presences here, there’s something basically unsatisfying about the access given to the initially intriguing but ultimately frustrating emotional refugees they play.

Like Piccioni’s “Not of This World,” the two principal characters are literally as that title suggests, out of synch with their environments, prone to wrong choices and destined not to fit in. But the script provides too little sense of what makes Antonio so open, selfless and undemanding despite being treated with indifference; why Maria shuts herself off from warmth or why Saverio would suddenly make time to hang out with the chauffeur and illuminate him with his morally murky worldview even when he’s off-duty. The uncertainty is not helped by Orlando, who’s a poor fit for the role.

Biggest problem, however, is the dialogue, which is too overwritten and wordy to sound natural. While it’s handsomely shot in deep colors and edited with graceful fluidity, the drama is something of an aural assault on all levels. On the rare occasions the characters stop talking, the voiceovers kick in, with Ludovico Einaudi’s lovely but uneconomically used piano score drenching every scene.

Light of My Eyes

Italy

Production: A 01 Distribution release of a Lionello Cerri, Luigi Musini presentation of an Albachiara/RAI Cinema production with participation of Telepiu. (International sales: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises, Rome.) Produced by Lionello Cerri. Executive producer, Massimo Di Rocco. Directed by Giuseppe Piccioni. Screenplay, Piccioni, Umberto Contarello, Linda Ferri.

Crew: Camera (Cinecitta color, widescreen), Arnaldo Catinari; editor, Esmeralda Calabria; music, Ludovico Einaudi; art director, Giancarlo Basili; costume designer, Maria Rita Barbera; sound (Dolby Digital), Francesco Cucinelli; assistant director, Alina Marazzi. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 4, 2001. (Also in Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 114 MIN.

With: Antonio - Luigi Lo Cascio Maria - Sandra Ceccarelli Saverio - Silvio Orlando Lisa - Barbara Valente Mario - Toni Bertorelli

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