Debuting helmer Mani Masserat-Aghat’s delightful romantic comedy “Ciao Bella” takes on Swedish attitudes toward immigrants and foreigners with a pitch-perfect story about young love, sex, ethnicity and fear of being an outsider. Cut from the same cloth as smart coming-of-agers such as “Bend It Like Beckham,” with plenty of English dialogue, the film should speak to international arthouse auds of all ages. However, frank but not graphic sexual content and open attitude toward abortion could limit travel in some regions. Pic opened in Sweden during late summer 2007, drawing strong reviews and respectable box office.
Like director Masserat-Aghat, protagonist Mustafa (Poyan Karimi, terrific) is a Swede born in Iran. A bright, athletic 16-year-old from a solid middle-class background, he doesn’t feel totally comfortable in the world of his parents or his peers, although he does an excellent job of masking it.
Dumped by his blonde g.f. (who euphemistically tells him she wants someone “more prominent”) during pic’s opening moments, Mustafa frequently overhears casually racist remarks such as “he’s one of them.”
When Mustafa travels to Gothenburg’s summer youth soccer tournament with his high school team, a clever series of events results in him playing on the Italian side. The confident, attractive Italians (portrayed as sex objects in playful locker-room scenes that reverse the way women are usually depicted) attract gaggles of gorgeous Swedish girls. Renamed Massimo by teammate Enrico (Oliver Ingrosso, hilarious), Mustafa is transformed into a Latin lover, and one of pic’s funniest bits involves Enrico demonstrating Italian seduction secrets.
Working-class beauty Linnea (Chanelle Lindelle, poignant) gravitates toward Massimo’s suave manners and sense of style. For Mustafa, it’s a dream come true, so he’s forced to maintain his fraudulent identity and carry out his courtship in English.
Strong playing by leads and, indeed, the entire ensemble of young actors gives the situations a realistic intensity and winning charm. Likewise, tight script sustains a sassily humorous tone while managing to address serious issues including national stereotyping and an increasingly sexualized youth environment.
Bright, natural-light lensing by Andreas Lennartsson emphasizes a multiethnic Sweden rarely seen onscreen and incorporates documentary footage of young people at the actual Gothia Cup.
Pacey editing, spot-on costuming and an unobtrusive score round out strong tech package.