Renato De Maria's love letter to his wife, lead actress Isabella Ferrari, doubles as a sparkling tale of one woman's liberation. Watching Ferrari slowly infuse her erstwhile conventional 35-year-old blonde with a hitherto unsuspected <I>joie de vivre </I>is alone worth the price of admission, but pic shows savvy in mirroring the character's sensual metamorphosis in the stainless steel and glass fronts of an ultramodern city by the sea.

Renato De Maria’s love letter to his wife, lead actress Isabella Ferrari, doubles as a sparkling tale of one woman’s liberation. Watching Ferrari slowly infuse her erstwhile conventional 35-year-old blonde with a hitherto unsuspected joie de vivre is alone worth the price of admission, but pic shows savvy in mirroring the character’s sensual metamorphosis in the stainless steel and glass fronts of an ultramodern city by the sea. Pic’s fudging of popular-versus-artfilm distinctions and its unabashed appreciation of female sexuality with nary a hint of sleaze may be too wholesome for currently dark-mined American arthouse auds. Cable might bite, however.

Nina (Ferrari) works as a P.A. announcer in a contempo shopping plaza, alerting customers to specials and sales. Married at the age 15, she has known no man other than her husband of 20 years (Pierfrancesco Farino) and no existence other than unvarying trajectories from home to work and back again, with occasional, regularly spaced outings in between. When her husband suddenly dumps her, she plunges into full-blown, head-under-the-covers depression, her health, looks, apartment and job sliding into disarray.

Then, on her 35th birthday, Nina begins anew, coaxed out of her shell by best girlfriend Giulia (Donatella Finocchiaro). Silently following an intriguing-looking man (Branko Djuric) to a hotel, she makes passionate love, awakening the next day to a world transformed, smiling at passersby and connecting to everyone she meets, particularly those of the male persuasion.

Searching in vain for the man she spent the night with (she left without exchanging names), Nina makes do with the next various males she comes in contact with, generally managing to control the situation with intelligence, wit and kindness.

Ironically, it is her place of business which profits most — whether remotely guiding a shopper toward a particularly juicy type of apple or philosophizing about how a lawnmower can lead to the discovery of one’s place in the universe, Nina’s announcements make sales increase exponentially, as customers, responding to the warmth and sincerity of her voice, verily pour through the aisles astride spanking new lawnmowers.

De Maria, who has recently helmed TV movies after the mitigated successes of his ambitious, dark “Hotel Fear” and more experimental “Paz,” maintains a breezy, upbeat tone that meshes with pic’s cool pop music (sometimes prompting character sing- alongs) and with the gleaming architecture of transparent surfaces and wide-open spaces, replicated in Giancarlo Basili’s elegant interior design and lovingly lensed by Alessandro Feira Chios in widescreen compositions.

Pic opens on extreme fragmentation: Nina is introduced in a flurry of images that splinter both time and space. “Love Me” then closes on somewhat fantastical synthesis as Nina, traversing the department store, crosses paths with all the men in her life, dispensing radiant benevolent smiles upon the entire, endearingly childish masculine sex in a scene that almost plays like an ironic update of the end of “Once Upon a Time in the West,” with Ferrari as Claudia Cardinale Lite and the shopping plaza as civilization’s new frontier.

Tech credits are uniformly excellent.

Love Me

Italy

Production

A Roberto and Matteo Levi presentation of a Tangram, RAI Cinema. Mikado production. Produced by Roberto Levi, Matteo Levi. Directed by Renato De Maria. Screenplay, De Maria, Francesco Piccolo.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Alessandro Feira Chios; editor, Jacopo Quadri; music, Riccardo Sinigallia, Emiliano Di Meo, Antonio Giulio Frulio; production designer, Giancarlo Basili; costumes, Francesca Casciello; sound (Dolby Digital), Alessandro Rolla; sound designer, Gianluca Mazzella; casting, Fabiola Banzi. Reviewed at Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, New York, June 4, 2005. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Isabella Ferrari, Pierfrancesco Farino, Donatella Finocchiaro, Branko Djuric, Marco Giallini, Valerio Mastandrea. (Italian dialogue)
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