"Working Slowly (Radio Alice)" employs expected tropes and visual winks but rarely forms them into something dramatically viable. Helmer Guido Chiesa piles up on component parts but despite the lively subject matter just can't seem to produce an emotionally engaging whole. Home B.O. may start respectably.

Revisiting the Italy of the radical ’70 and its obsessions with class struggle, creative anarchy and macrame ponchos, “Working Slowly (Radio Alice)” employs expected tropes and visual winks but rarely forms them into something dramatically viable. As in his earlier “Johnny the Partisan,” helmer Guido Chiesa piles up on component parts but despite the lively subject matter just can’t seem to produce an emotionally engaging whole. Home B.O. may start respectably, but non-Italo auds unfamiliar with the real Radio Alice story will feel even less connected.

In a working-class district on the outskirts of Bologna, Sgualo (Tommaso Ramenghi) and Pelo (Marco Luisi) hang out at the local cafe, allergic to gainful employment. They don’t mind the occasional shady job for local hood Marangon (Valerio Binasco), but they’re typical teens from the projects, convinced there’s little future whichever way they turn.

Marangon however is thinking big: he’s going to rob a bank, and hires the two guys to dig a tunnel to the vault. Their transistor radio only gets one station underground: the student-run Radio Alice, “a voice for those without.” The left-wing station’s irreverent ribbing of the system unnerves the cops, so Lt. Lippolis (Valerio Mastandrea) is assigned to monitor the airwaves.

Sgualo and Pelo think the new sounds and ideas they hear are pretty cool: one visit to the pigsty of a station and they’re welcomed by the Radio Alice gang, who are only too glad to have genuine sons of the working class on board. The tunnel-digging continues as they become more involved with the station, until a confluence of events sucks everyone into the disastrous riots of 1977.

Despite a suggestion that Sgualo’s commitment to the cause is genuine, there’s nothing in his character to intimate he’s in it for anything other than partying and meeting loose chicks. At least Pelo, whose father was killed in an industrial accident, has the old proletariat chip on his shoulder.

Chiesa uses far too much shaky hand-held camerawork, and the overall look has an unattractive resemblance to faded ’70s color stock. An outdoor concert sequence owes much to old Woodstock footage, plus there’s an especially silly ripoff of the dinner party scene from “Hair.” Chiesa obviously gets off on the period flavor, but its overabundance weakens his ability to concentrate the action.

Music is only occasionally used to full advantage, from the Fugs and Patti Smith to a completely anachronistic “Casta Diva.” Title comes from a contempo song, urging workers to produce less in order to screw over capitalist society, hastening the class revolution.

Working Slowly (Radio Alice)

Italy-France

Production

A Fandango release (in Italy) of a Fandango (Italy)/Les Films des Tournelles (France) coproduction, in collaboration with Medusa Film. (International sales: The Works Ltd., London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci. Executive producer, Gianluca Chiaretti. Directed by Guido Chiesa. Screenplay, Chiesa, Wu Ming.

Crew

Camera (color), Gherardo Gossi; editor, Luca Gasparini; music, Teho Teardo; production designer, Sonia Peng; costume designer, Lina Taviani; sound (Dolby digital), Remo Ugolinelli; assistant director, Roy Bava. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 3, 2004. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Tommaso Ramenghi, Marco Luisi, Claudia Pandolfi, Valerio Mastandrea, Valerio Binasco, Jacopo Bonvicini, Max Mazzotta, Massimo Coppola. (Italian dialogue)
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