Luciano Ligabue's second feature, "From Zero to Ten," is a slickly produced operation that feels too much like a contrived narrative construct designed to mine nostalgia for the hopes, dreams and freedom of youth -- overcharted territory in Italian cinema of the last 10 years.

Luciano Ligabue’s 1998 directing debut, “Radio Freccia,” was based on the popular Italian rock star’s short stories, which drew directly on his youth in 1970s Emilia Romagna, bringing authenticity and sincerity to its observations. His second feature, “From Zero to Ten,” is a slickly produced operation that feels too much like a contrived narrative construct designed to mine nostalgia for the hopes, dreams and freedom of youth — overcharted territory in Italian cinema of the last 10 years. Backed by strong marketing and a high-rotation airplay single and musicvideo from Ligabue, film opened well locally but may struggle to cross borders.

Title comes from the obsession in life, starting from birth, with giving grades and ratings, an intriguing central idea that could have been the basis for an examination of the nature of competition and of the pressures of measuring up in a society ruled by these concerns. But Ligabue’s episodic screenplay proves less ambitious.

Leaving their families and responsibilities behind, four male friends in their mid-30s return to beachside nightlife capital Rimini to conclude a weekend interrupted by tragedy 20 years earlier. Despite having had no contact with them since, the guys manage, with inexplicable ease, to trace the four women they were aiming to seduce that weekend. Three of them somewhat improbably accept the invitation to hook up again at the low-rent pensione where they first met in the summer of 1980. One of the women (Barbara Lerici), who’s pursued a lesbian life, brings along her lover (Stefania Rivi) to keep the numbers even.

Libero (Massimo Bellinzoni), the most soulful and introspective of the four guys, organizes wish-fulfillment surprises for his buddies. Passionate blues-guitarist Giove (Stefano Pesce) gets to play in a live concert; relentless skirt-chaser Baygon (Stefano Venturi) is set up with a trio of hookers; and gay Biccio (Pierfrancesco Favino) is led on a horse-drawn carnival float down the main strip in drag.

Grading the current state of their lives from zero to 10, the group reveals a reasonable level of contentment. But as the weekend evolves, their frustrations, fears, disappointments and difficulty in perceiving themselves as adults emerge. More dramatically, the personal loss they all suffered during the bombing of Bologna station in 1980 resurfaces, weighing heavily on their plans for entertainment and revealing that Libero’s emotional scars, in particular, have been unable to heal.

Loaded with platitudinous, overwritten dialogue (“Does it take more courage to face life than death?”) about growing up and leaving the carefree pleasures of youth behind, the script is more concerned with tracking the liberating experience of adults surrendering to acts of youthful bravado than with forging interesting characters out of those adults. While the sentiments Ligabue attempts to explore seem genuine, the context feels entirely fabricated.

Only Elisabetta Cavallotti as a divorced woman recovering from cancer brings any real sense of someone with a life outside the weekend reunion. The more somber final stretch also is unsatisfying, packaging the theme of the inescapable past and its encumbrance on the present in a daredevil car-racing finale that feels like Hollywood-styled artificiality.

The film is handsomely shot in widescreen with loads of visual energy, sharp production values and a punchy music-and-song score. Stylistically, Ligabue throws in everything from split-screen to video inserts to a singing-dancing musical number, but as a director, he brings no unifying style of his own. The specter of Fellini is never too far away in the over-emphasized idea of Rimini as a hedonistic, carnivalesque town of ample and accessible pleasures.

From Zero to Ten

Production

A Medusa Film release of a Domenico Procacci presentation of a Fandango production in association with Medusa Film, with participation of Telepiu. Produced by Domenico Procacci. Directed, written by Luciano Ligabue.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Gherardo Gossi; editor, Angelo Nicolini; music, Ligabue; production designer, Leonardo Scarpa; costume designer, Marina Roberti; sound (Dolby Digital/Digital DTS), Gaetano Carito; associate producer, Claudio Miaoli; assistant director, Roy Bava; casting, Giovanna Vaccarelli. Reviewed at Embassy Cinema, Rome, Feb. 5, 2002. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Libero - Massimo Bellinzoni
Caterina - Elisabetta Cavallotti
Biccio - Pierfrancesco Favino
Carmen - Barbara Lerici
Giove - Stefano Pesce
Lara - Fabrizia Sacchi
Betta - Stefania Rivi
Baygon - Stefano Venturi
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