With "Remember Me," Italian director Gabriele Muccino affirms his position at the forefront of a group of young filmmakers pushing national commercial cinema into more intelligent new territory. Following his phenomenally successful "The Last Kiss," this more mature though still somewhat unmodulated work offers a blistering assessment of the frustrations of two generations of an Italian middle-class family.

With “Remember Me,” Italian director Gabriele Muccino affirms his position at the forefront of a group of young filmmakers pushing national commercial cinema into more intelligent new territory. Following his phenomenally successful “The Last Kiss,” this more mature though still somewhat unmodulated work offers a blistering assessment of the frustrations of two generations of an Italian middle-class family. Opening wide on Valentine’s Day — an ironic date for a film that’s anything but tender — this skillfully crafted drama is sure to spark debate in Italy, where hit status seems guaranteed. Foreign arthouse prospects also appear solid.

Starting with his warmly observed zit pics “That’s It” and “But Forever in My Mind,” and reaching a higher level of accomplishment with “The Last Kiss,” Muccino has spun the often petty problems of contemporary Italians into urgent human drama. Here he extends his focus to look at the foundering institution of family, undertaking his dissection against the backdrop of an Italy where Berlusconi-era commercial television and its demeaning meat market for young girls typifies the prevailing absence of a concrete ideology.

Neither indulgent nor unforgiving, Muccino to a certain degree empathizes with the fragility of his average Roman screen family, each of them locked in their individual uncertainties, desperately seeking validation and panicked at the prospect of being mired in mediocrity for the rest of their lives.

Carlo (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) was an aspiring novelist who has ended up with a finance company, while his wife Giulia (Laura Morante) traded her dreams of being an actress for a teaching job.

Having misplaced their own convictions, the couple has passed on nothing to their son and daughter, respectively veering left and right. Valentina (Nicoletta Romanoff) is a cute 18-year-old Lolita driven by ugly ambition to become a TV starlet, while Paolo (Silvio Muccino) is 19 and thrashing about in search of himself.

The eruption of change proves difficult for the family to endure. Giulia lands a role in a theater production and impulsively throws herself at the director (Gabriele Lavia), not realizing he’s gay; Valentina does some strategic bed hopping that earns her an audition; and Paolo grasps at ways to fabricate the identity he feels he’s missing.

But the real catalyst for crisis comes when Carlo encounters Alessia (Monica Bellucci), a flame from his student years now similarly stuck in a family rut, and the couple takes a stab at securing the passion absent from their lives.

While Muccino has refined his technique over four features and has developed greater insight, his characteristic tendency toward hysteria remains. This keeps the drama fast and compelling, but also makes it slightly wearing at times. As in “The Last Kiss,” communication between the characters starts out nervous and volatile and stays there, pausing for breath only late in the action when Carlo is involved in an accident.

The director and co-scripter Heidrun Schleef (“The Son’s Room”) set up false signs of a consolatory final act before pulling back, subtly exposing the transparent facade of reconciliation, exemplified most poignantly in Paolo.

While Morante seems to be doing what’s required, her high-strung, menopausal characterization seems shrill and one-note. Newcomer Romanoff strikes a better balance between Valentina’s self-absorbed nature and the residue of a softer side of teenage girlhood. Marginally toning down her exquisite beauty with aging makeup, Bellucci presents a touching portrait of a woman with the courage to act upon her sadness but also the sense of responsibility required to regain her composure.

Muccino, however, sketches both Carlo and Paolo with a more wrenching vulnerability than the women. One of Italy’s most accomplished actors, Bentivoglio’s sorrowful eyes gently convey Carlo as pensive and a little frazzled while Silvio Muccino (the director’s brother) creates the drama’s most sympathetic character in painfully lost Paolo.

Marcello Montarsi’s widescreen lensing is both agitated and graceful, steering the probing camera in close. Like “The Last Kiss,” bravura Steadicam displays again are integral to the film’s frenetic pace, driven by Claudio Di Mauro’s feverish editing and Paolo Buonvino’s nervous string score.

Remember Me

Italy-France-U.K.

Production

A Medusa Films release (Italy) of a Domenico Procacci presentation of a Fandango (Italy)/Buena Vista Film Production (France)/Vice Versa Film (U.K.) production in association with Medusa Films, Telepiu. (International sales: the Works, London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci. Co-producer, Nadine Luque. Directed by Gabriele Muccino. Screenplay, Muccino, Heidrun Schleef; story, Muccino.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Marcello Montarsi; editor, Claudio Di Mauro; music, Paolo Buonvino; production designer, Paola Bizzarri; costume designer, Gemma Mascagni; sound (Dolby Digital), Gaetano Carito; assistant director/casting, Francesco Vedovati. Reviewed at FonoRoma screening room, Rome, Jan. 29, 2003. Running time: 124 MIN.

With

Carlo Ristuccia - Fabrizio Bentivoglio Giulia Ristuccia - Laura Morante Valentina Ristuccia - Nicoletta Romanoff Paolo Ristuccia - Silvio Muccino Alessia - Monica Bellucci Alfredo - Gabriele Lavia Stefano Manni - Enrico Silvestrin
With: Silvia Coen, Alberto Gimignani, Amanda Sandrelli, Blas Roca Rey, Pietro Taricone, Giulia Michelini, Stefano Santospago, Maria Chiara Augenti.
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