Roberto Ando's films are the cinematic equivalent of slick designer hotels: they look gorgeous, feel chic, and are full of beautiful people, yet there's no comfort beyond cold surface charms. "Secret Journey" can be the flagship for the genre, a Freudian reverie that impresses on a visual level but exhibits a muddled sense of direction.

Roberto Ando’s films are the cinematic equivalent of slick designer hotels: they look gorgeous, feel chic, and are full of beautiful people, yet there’s no comfort beyond cold surface charms. “Secret Journey” can be the flagship for the genre, a Freudian reverie with one hell of an Electra Complex that impresses on a visual level but exhibits a muddled sense of direction. Based on a Josephine Hart psychological thriller, pic has the cinephile draw of Emir Kusturica as part of the cast, though it’s unlikely arthouses will call, and sales outside France may be tough.

Ando and usual co-scripter Salvatore Marcarelli transpose the locus of Hart’s novel from Ireland to Sicily, where two children witness their mother being shot to death in a family villa outside of Syracuse. Nearly 30 years later, the boy Leo (Alessio Boni), now a shrink, gets word the abandoned house is about to be sold.

The workaholic Leo has spent decades avoiding the past, focusing his energies on his job and providing emotional support to sister Ale (Valeria Solarino), a model and wannabe actress who suppressed memories of their mother’s death. Unbeknownst to all, Ale’s Serbian painter b.f. Harold (Kusturica) is the mysterious prospective buyer, thinking the villa would make a dandy wedding gift for his bride-to-be.

Leo heads down from Rome to investigate the sale, meeting with sympathetic real estate agent Anna (Donatella Finocchiaro) who tries not to pry but is curious about the murder and Leo’s current interest in the place. Obviously the official story, that dad Michele (Marco Baliani) killed mom Adele (Claudia Gerini) while cleaning a rifle, doesn’t hold water, though Leo has a vested interest in discouraging any prying, and a meeting with his father does nothing to help him find peace.

Ando’s Pinter-esque influences can be seen (or heard) in the film’s frequent long pauses and awkward silences, but he overloads the story with unspoken meanings that just aren’t supportable. Every face and glance seems to be communicating a tale of malevolence that’s simply not there, and actors, especially Boni, are made to walk through the story with eyes constantly ready to brim over with tears. Side plots, such as Ale’s probing interviews with an acting coach, and Leo’s unsatisfactory meeting with his father, are poorly integrated, and provide more questions than answers.

The fine, underused Finocchiaro is saddled with a character with little genuine complexity. Boni certainly captures Leo’s stunted emotional life, but as written, he seems more a psychoanalyst’s profile than real human being, while Kusturica endows his character with a misleading malevolence that never pans out.

As always, d.p. Maurizio Calvesi’s graceful lensing can be relied upon for accomplished, attractive visuals; flashback scenes are distinguished by a darker, more grainy palette. Interiors have that design magazine look that seems to negate human activity; music, from Mozart to Billie Holiday, is nicely integrated.

Secret Journey

Italy-France

Production

Medusa Film presents a Medusa Film (Italy)/Manigolda Film (France) production, in collaboration with SKY. (International sales: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises, Rome.) Produced by Marco Poccioni, Marco Valsania. Directed by Roberto Ando. Screenplay, Ando, Salvatore Marcarelli, freely based on the novel "The Reconstructionist" by Josephine Hart.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Maurizio Calvesi; editor, Jacopo Quadri; music, Marco Betta, Andrea Guerra; production designer, Giovanni Carluccio; costume designer, Gemma Mascagni; sound (Dolby Digital), Andrea Giorgio Moser. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (Special Events), Oct. 19, 2006. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Alessio Boni, Donatella Finocchiaro, Valeria Solarino, Claudia Gerini, Marco Baliani, Emir Kusturica, Roberto Herlitzka, Giselda Volodi, Fausto Russo Alesi, Davide Palazzolo, Ines Arezzo, Carla Cassarino. (Italian, English dialogue)
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