There's plenty of irony in the title "A Perfect Day," popular helmer Ferzan Ozpetek's look at a volatile family’s meltdown over the course of 24 hours.

There’s plenty of irony in the title “A Perfect Day,” popular helmer Ferzan Ozpetek’s look at a volatile family’s meltdown over the course of 24 hours. Pic has been slimmed down by Ozpetek and top scripter Sandro Petraglia (“The Best of Youth”) from Melania Mazzucco’s bestselling novel, and the increased focus works better for the leads than for the side roles, whose stories become telegraphed in uninspired, unconvincing ways. Home biz and ancillary will be strong, while Euro screens may see slightly better-than-tepid responses.

Sometime in the recent past, Emma (Isabella Ferrari) left hubby Antonio (Valerio Mastandrea), taking kids Valentina (Nicole Murgia) and Kevin (Gabriele Paolino) and moving in with her mother, Adriana (Stefania Sandrelli). Antonio, a bodyguard for politico Elio Fioravanti (Valerio Binasco), is desperate to have her back, but his unstable nature and predilection for stalking aren’t helping matters.

Kevin’s attendance at Elio’s daughter’s birthday party allows the story to pick up on the politician’s second, much younger wife Maja (Nicole Grimaudo), a world-class snob harboring mutually shared feelings for her stepson, Aris (Federico Costantini). When Emma refuses to go back to Antonio, he rapes her and then grabs the kids, leading Emma on a frantic search with Valentina’s teacher, Mara (Monica Guerritore, playing a character written as a gay man in the novel).

The central relationship between Emma and Antonio works best, her dead-tired exasperation fighting against his psychotic needs. However, Ozpetek’s general need to clean up his working-class figures means that, despite frequent comments on Emma’s coarseness, she’s never made vulgar enough to reinforce distinctions signaled in the script. Also problematic is Emma’s oddly docile attitude toward Antonio’s increasing violence, especially once the children are involved.

Side plots work less successfully, especially the tension between Maja and Aris. Similarly, a late scene of Elio sobbing, once he realizes his political career has been sidelined, has no effect. In the novel, Mazzucco was able to bring in a wide range of characters, a luxury not possible for the film, and the snippets of personality offered here aren’t enough, or well-written enough, to make auds care.

Pic’s greatest strength is Ferrari, last seen in “Quiet Chaos,” at last given a role deeper than the hard sexual animals generally tossed her way. Though she unfortunately isn’t allowed to make more of the class differences, thesp still brings depth and a sense of Emma’s recent past to the role, above and beyond her scripted lines.

Ozpetek’s trademark slick, gliding camerawork, shot by Fabio Zamarion (“Respiro”), is the standard attractive stuff auds have come to expect, always good-looking but seemingly more determined by location than by character. Editing together so many strands can cause momentum to falter, and the ending in particular feels pushed beyond its limits. Andrea Guerra’s ultra-rich music wildly over-eggs the pudding.

A Perfect Day

Italy

Production

A 01 Distribution release of a Fandango production, in collaboration with RAI Cinema, Sky Cinema. (International sales: Fandango Portobello Sales, London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci. Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek. Screenplay, Sandro Petraglia, Ozpetek, based on the novel by Melania Mazzucco.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Fabio Zamarion; editor, Patrizio Marone; music, Andrea Guerra; production designer, Giancarlo Basili; costume designer, Alessandro Lai; sound (Dolby Digital), Marco Grillo; line producer, Gianluca Leurini; assistant director, Barbara Daniele; casting, Pino Pellegrino. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Aug. 30, 2008. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Valerio Mastandrea, Isabella Ferrari, Stefania Sandrelli, Monica Guerritore, Nicole Grimaudo, Valerio Binasco, Angela Finocchiaro, Federico Costantini, Nicole Murgia, Gabriele Paolino, Milena Vukotic, Serra Yilmaz, Giulia Salerno.
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