The story of a protective father’s overweening love for his mentally unstable daughter plays out against the backdrop of fascist Italy in ultra-prolific writer-helmer Pupi Avati’s 37th feature, “Giovanna’s Father.” A simple, sentimental drama drawn in broad strokes with a determinedly cheerful tone, it seems destined to follow the path of much of his recent work: onto domestic screens large and small, with offshore travel limited to fests and national cinema celebrations.
Opening in 1938 Bologna, the narrative quickly establishes the dysfunctional dynamic of the working-class Casali family. Michele (Silvio Orlando), a high school art teacher, is so obsessed with 17-year-old daughter Giovanna’s (Alba Rohrwacher) awkwardness and social isolation that he goes to inappropriate extremes to bolster her confidence. His behavior alienates attractive wife Delia (Francesca Neri), who feels left out of the father-daughter bond.
The family’s fate is bound to that of neighbor and faithful friend Sergio (Ezio Greggio), a fascist policeman. The film gives a nod and a wink to the way he uses his special status to obtain favors from merchants and businessmen. When Giovanna proves she’s really off her rocker by a committing a dreadful crime, Michele feels responsible and gives up everything to care for her, leaving Delia to Sergio’s tender mercies.
In other hands, the downbeat story might have inspired complex psychological subtext, but as it unfolds here, it’s a hard-to-swallow fairy tale about the redeeming power of pure love. More purely risible is a scene of Sergio, mortally wounded, managing to flee from a postwar firing squad. Nostalgia for the period of Il Duce is rather off-putting The leading thesps offer earnestly literal perfs; supporting cast is one-note picaresque. Tech package is pro, with a particularly fine opening-credits sequence of black-and-white photos and newsreels.