Law and crime make uneasy bedfellows in "Galantuomini," a modest blend of crime drama and star-crossed romance set in Italy's Deep South.

Law and crime make uneasy bedfellows in “Galantuomini,” a modest blend of crime drama and star-crossed romance set in Italy’s Deep South. Coming on the heels of the loveless but impressive “Gomorrah,” pic wisely takes a different route, though its narrow focus on the relationship between a high-placed judge and a female Godfather makes the film feel rather small. Pic failed to crack the top 10 in its first week of release, and only scattered bigscreen opportunities are likely before it’s sentenced to ancillary.

Helmer/co-writer Edoardo Winspeare, whose family traces its origins back to 18th-century Yorkshire, is one of the Italian directors most directly associated with the region in which he grew up: Salento, in heel of Italy’s boot. Like “Galantuomini,” his previous pics have been set there and are at least partially in the local dialect (which needs to be subtitled for regular Italian auds).

In the 1990s, former childhood sweethearts Ignazio (Fabrizio Gifuni), now a respected judge, and Lucia (Donatella Finocchiaro), still a gal of mettle, meet again at the funeral of Fabio (Winspeare regular Lamberto Probo), with whom they’d formed an inseparable trio as kids. Ignazio has just moved back to Salento after a successful stint in northern Italy. Lucia never left; she ostensibly sells perfume but is really one of the bosses of the powerful crime org United Sacred Crown.

Pic is strongest in drawing the day-to-day reality of Lucia, a single mother with a 7-year-old son (Lorenzo Nicoli) whose father (Giuseppe Fiorello) just happens to be one of the Crown’s most important heroin dealers. Crime is simply a part of Lucia’s life, and Winspeare’s early experiences as a documentarian serve him well here. Finocchiaro, who won best actress at the Rome fest for her perf, never misses a beat as she transitions from mother to perfume saleswoman to tough-as-nails crime boss.

As the two fall in love again, Ignazio struggles to reconcile his feelings with his job. However, Winspeare seems uncertain how to handle a character who embodies the fact that in southern Italy — and many other places as well — crime and law enforcement are often literally in bed with one another. Gifuni’s turn is reined in but suits the material. Supporting performances are strong, with Fiorello a standout as Lucia’s ex.

Nevertheless, “Galantuomini” feels a lot smaller in scope than a crime pic like “Gomorrah”: Lucia and Ignazio’s story is more melodrama than Shakespearean tragedy. Widescreen lensing by Paolo Carnera feels too large for such an intimate story, while the music is much less important than in Winspeare’s previous outings.

Galantuomini

Italy

Production

An 01 Distribution release of an Acaba Produzioni, RAI Cinema presentation of an Acaba production, in association with RAI Cinema. (International sales: Coach 14, Barcelona.) Produced by Fabrizio Mosca. Executive producer, Torre Sansonetti. Directed by Edoardo Winspeare. Screenplay, Winspeare, Andrea Piva, Alessandro Valenti; idea, Winspeare, Valenti.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Paolo Carnera; editor, Luca Benedetti; music, Gabriele Rampino; production designer, Sabrina Balestra; costume designer, Silvia Nebiolo; sound (Dolby Digital), Bruno Pupparo. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (competing), Oct. 27, 2008. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Donatella Finocchiaro, Fabrizio Gifuni, Gioia Spaziani, Lorenzo Nicoli, Lamberto Probo, Giuseppe Fiorello, Sofia Chiarello, Federico Codacci Pisanelli.

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