"Three-Step Dance" is the latest example of Italy's recent love affair with regional cinema. Salvatore Mereu constructs a tone poem in four parts, arranged according to seasons, that correspond to life periods, all connected through minor character repetition. Attractive lensing and location could appeal to fests and limited auds.

Waltzing its way through the Sardinian landscape, “Three-Step Dance” is the latest example of Italy’s recent love affair with regional cinema. Novice helmer Salvatore Mereu constructs a tone poem in four parts, arranged according to seasons, that correspond to life periods, all loosely connected through minor character repetition. Pic won a Special Mention for First Film at Venice and, though it stumbles in the final scene, attractive lensing and novelty location could appeal to fests and limited specialty auds looking for new territories to discover.

The themes examined — isolation, communication, and the clash between tradition and modernity — are played out in a Sardinia whose interior is barely touched by the encroaching fingers of globalization. The plots vary in each “season,” although common themes connect the passages.

In “Spring,” a group of small boys, headed by Andrea (Daniele Casula), is taken from the rugged heartland of the island to the sea for the first time. Mereu chose real village moppets who’d never seen a wave, and their sense of wonder is affecting, along with their inability to understand why they feel moved to tears.

“Summer” concentrates on isolated shepherd Michele (Michele Carboni), whose lonely work in the mountains is occasionally remunerated by a seaside restaurant owner (Massimo Sarchielli) who caters to the international young and well-heeled. Very modern frenchie Solveig (Caroline Ducey) takes a fancy to the virginal Michele, and plays with his country naivetewhile remaining blithely unaware of the profound differences in their lives. Mereu’s pacing falters here, and the sex scene, while initially amusing, could use a liberal trim.

“Autumn” continues the theme of dissociation, with nun Francesca (Yael Abecassis) getting leave from the convent to attend her sister’s village wedding. Here, the calm and safety of cloistered life makes for a studied contrast with the hurly-burly of the everyday. The village becomes the link to “Winter,” in which Giorgio (Giampaolo Loddo), an elderly man back in the city after attending the aforementioned wedding, silently contrasts life between town and country. This is the least successful of the segs, and the pseudo-Fellini ending feels inorganic.

Mereu has a talented eye for beautiful compositions and an unpatronizing feel for his peasant characters, but occasional problems with rhythm work against the feel of the film as a whole. However, there’s much promise here, and his next effort will be worth watching for.

Amos Gitai regular Abecassis is a nice surprise, and her expressive face, made more so by her wimple, lends a strong heart to her scenes. Dialogue is mainly in Sardinian dialect, incomprehensible to most Italians, thus necessitating subtitles through 75% of the film.

Three-Step Dance

Italy

Production

A Lucky Red release of an Eyescreen production. (International sales: RAI Trade, Rome.) Produced by Gianluca Arcopinto, Andrea Occhipinti. Executive producer, Pablo. Directed, written by Salvatore Mereu.

Crew

Camera (color), Renato Berta, Tommaso Borgstrom, Paolo Bravi, Nicolas Franik; editor, Paola Freddi; music, Giampaolo Mele Corriga; art director, Giada Calabria; costume designers, Silvia Nebiolo, Stefania Grilli, Valentina Scalia; sound (Dolby), Emanuele Cecere. Reviewed at Cinema Quattro Fontane, Rome, Sept. 18, 2003 (In Venice Film Festival, Critics' Week.) Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Yael Abecassis, Caroline Ducey, Michele Carboni, Giampaolo Loddo, Daniele Casula, Mauro Frongia, Massimo Sarchielli, Pietro Arba, Rossella Bergo. (Sardinian, Italian, French dialogue)
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