A thirst for social justice underscores "Chemical Hunger -- the Munchies," an odd entry in the "Do the Right Thing" genre that has a big heart but rarely understands how to convey its message. The young residents of a depressed Milan neighborhood struggle to find larger meanings to life, but helmers make better use of space than they do of character.

A thirst for social justice underscores “Chemical Hunger — the Munchies,” an oddly titled entry in the micro “Do the Right Thing” genre that has a big heart but rarely understands how to convey its message. The young residents of a depressed Milan neighborhood struggle to find larger meanings to life, but helmers Paolo Vari and Antonio Bocola make better use of space than they do of character. Time is ticking away for much more fest exposure, making Euro cable outlets the most likely takers for this unsatisfying repast.

A small explosion off a neglected city square whets curiosity before pic jumps back three days to introduce the protags. Claudio (Marco Foschi) and his mates hang out in Piazza Gagarin, a cold concrete and graffiti-covered square that encapsulates post-war urban soullessness. Making for uneasy tensions are the other local residents and immigrants, and the fascistic xenophobes who want to build a wall to keep their darker-skinned neighbors out of sight.

During a night out, reticent Claudio meets Maja (Valeria Solarino), a free spirit whose lack of inhibitions attracts Claudio. A nighttime skinny-dip in the municipal pool leads to the inevitable coupling, but Maja isn’t interested in the longterm, and she hooks up with Claudio’s drug-dealing friend Manuel (Matteo Gianoli).

Meanwhile, Claudio begins to squirm under the exploitation at his warehouse job, and, at the same time, makes a stand for immigrants targeted by petty politicians and right-wing neighbors.

Vari and Bocola use space well, and their sense of how to move characters through the concrete harshness of the city square succeeds in making the urban space more of a character than several of the actors. Less successful is the flow of scenes, which feel too independent of one another, an unsurprising result considering the number of people credited on the script.

Claudio’s occasional voice-over narration tries to connect the tale, but there’s little continuity of emotion, and despite a sympathetic performance by Foschi, even his character fails to rally enough sympathy, leaving viewers hungry for Ken Loach’s more chewable tales.

Acting as a sort of Greek chorus is tattooed and pierced Luca “Zulu” Persico, lead singer of 99 Posse, whose two angry raps are meant to sum up the mood and comment on the explosive situation, but they’re more novelties than genuine emotion-creators. Other musical selections range far and wide like the film itself, diffusing anything incisive or caustic. Blow up from 16 doesn’t affect generally standard tech credits.

Chemical Hunger - The Munchies

Italy

Production

A Lucky Red release of a Cooperativa Gagarin/Associazione Fame Chimica/Ubu Film production. (International sales: Lucky Red, Rome.) Produced by Gianfilippo Pedote, Franco Zuliani, Pio Bordoni. Executive producers, Franco Bocca Gelsi, Zuliani. Directed by Paolo Vari, Antonio Bocola. Screenplay, Bocola, Gianfilippo Pedote, Cristina Proserpio, Francesco Scarpelli, Vari.

Crew

Camera (color, super 16mm-to-35), Mladen Matula; editor, Maurizio Grillo; music, Luca "Zulu" Persico; production designers, Igor Ronchese, Nicola Pellegrini, Chicco Longo, Alessio Baskakis, Luigi Maresca; costume designer, Sabrina Beretta; sound (dts), Roberto Mozzarelli. Reviewed at Cinema Tibur, Rome, May 18, 2004. (In Venice Film Festival 2003 -- New Territories.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Marco Foschi, Matteo Gianoli, Valeria Solarino, Teco Celio, Mauro Serio, Umberto Terruso, Mimmo Allanprese, Luca Persico, Joel Bossi, Alessandro Mureddu, Angelo Tramontana, Andrea "Kenny" Canesi, Francesco Guida, Persefone Zubtic.
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