Fans of Pupi Avati will take a shine to "The Second Wedding Night." Those who find his pics on the sentimental side, with cutesy situations grafted onto characters rather than the roles themselves dictating events, will find nothing in his 31st feature to change their mind.

Fans of Pupi Avati will take a shine to “The Second Wedding Night.” Those who find his pics on the sentimental side, with cutesy situations grafted onto characters rather than the roles themselves dictating events, will find nothing in his 31st feature to change their mind. Period and regional flavor help pepper this tale of a halfwit’s undying love for his recently widowed sister-in-law in the immediate post-war days, although even these spices aren’t enough to disguise overall blandness. Local buzz after Venice screenings was strong, but drumming up offshore support won’t be easy.

The music already swells wildly in the opening moments, with simpleton Giordano (Antonio Albanese) scouring for unexploded ordnance littering the countryside of the southern province of Apulia. Kind-hearted Giordano wasn’t always the village idiot, but electric shock treatment for depression left him playing with only half a deck. He’s looked after by two maiden aunts, Suntina (Angela Luce) and Eugenia (Marisa Merlini), who run a sugared almond confectionary out of the large house they share.

Giordano’s outlook changes when he receives a letter from sister-in-law Lilliana (opera star Katia Ricciarelli). She’s had a bad time in Bologna surviving the WWII, reduced to living in shelters and making moral compromises to keep a roof over the heads of her and her swindler son, Nino (Neri Marcore).

Giordano harbored a love for Lilliana from early adolescence, and is only too happy to offer her the protection of his home. She’s reluctant, but Nino smells a sucker and steals a car to drive down and take advantage of his long-lost uncle’s generosity.

Giordano is ready to sign away his inheritance to prove his love for Lilliana. She’s taken aback by the discovery that this man she knew as a bright kid now has several screws loose, but his disarming trust and generosity gradually win her over.

Much like the candy-covered almonds manufactured by Giordano’s family, the pic’s outside is a little too sweet, and the inside a little on the stale side. Avati (not alone among Italo helmers) romanticizes the “pure love” nursed by children into adulthood, but if auds don’t buy into the belief that no love is more perfect, then the romanticizing falls flat. The most original idea is how Avati switches the traditional conceptions of north and south, so that the southern province of Apulia, normally thought of as poor, is much more prosperous than war-ravaged Bologna in the north.

Casting diva Ricciarelli in the role of the world-weary, unglamorous Lilliana was considered a risky move on Avati’s part, but hers is the most interesting role, and the opera star exhibits a beaten-down fragility that gives the character considerable depth. The mere presence of vet thesps Luce and Merlini, as the elderly aunts, brightens the screen.

Lensing, especially in the Apulia segments, is attractive, though unatmospheric lighting standardizes the images. Pop songs from the era are plopped here and there without apparently much thought other than a generic desire to add period atmosphere, while incidental music does nothing to lessen Avati’s tendency toward the sappy.

The Second Wedding Night

Italy

Production

A 01 Distribution release (in Italy) of a DueA Film, Rai Cinema production. (International sales: Rai Trade, Rome.) Produced by Antonio Avati. Directed, written by Pupi Avati.

Crew

Camera (color), Pasquale Rachini; editor, Amedeo Salfa; music, Riz Ortolani; production designer, Simona Migliotti; costume designer, Francesco Crivellini; sound (Dolby Digital), Piero Parisi. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 9, 2005. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Antonio Albanese, Neri Marcore, Katia Ricciarelli, Angela Luce, Marisa Merlini, Robert Madison, Tony Santagata, Sandro Dori, Mia Benedetta, Manuela Morabito, Valeria D'Obici.
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