Dumping someone causes the same amount of heartache as being dumped in "The Man Who Loves," helmer Maria Sole Tognazzi's exploration of metrosexual mores, which is at pains to prove that heterosexual men have feelings, too.

Dumping someone causes the same amount of heartache as being dumped in “The Man Who Loves,” helmer Maria Sole Tognazzi’s exploration of metrosexual mores, which is at pains to prove that heterosexual men have feelings, too. Pierfrancesco Favino stars as a man who loses sleep over his love life while trying to live up to the ideal of the perfect, loving relationship of his gay brother. Romantics with a taste for lovelorn misery may cotton to the highly artificial story and dialogue, but pic faces an uphill battle beyond home turf and film weeks.

Tognazzi (daughter of veteran thesp Ugo Tognazzi) wrote the screenplay with scribe Ivan Cotroneo, whose novel about the break-up of a gay couple, “Cronaca di un disamore,” inspired her to make a film about heartbreak from a male p.o.v. Roberto (Favino), a Turin pharmacist in his late 30s, measures his unhappiness in matters of the heart against the happiness of his kid brother, Carlo (Michele Alhaique), who has an apparently effortless relationship with cute student Yuri (Glen Blackhall).

Alas, Roberto endures not one but two doomed romances — both with stunners. Steely hotel exec Sara (Ksenia Rappoport, “The Unknown Woman”) breaks up with him after half a year; Alba (Monica Bellucci), an art-gallery employee, is shown the door by Roberto after three years. Both break-ups leave Roberto deeply scarred, though a narrative gimmick initially leaves it unclear which one occurs first.

Dialogue underlines each shade of emotion the characters are supposedly going through, all extremely exaggerated even for an Italo meller. The narrow focus on Roberto’s p.o.v. partially explains why everyone else seems so happy, but it also further reduces the others to two-dimensional figures.

Except Favino (Columbus in “Night at the Museum”) and Alhaique, thesps barely register. Roberto’s parents (Piera Degli Esposti, Arnaldo Ninchi) and his sourpuss boss (Marisa Paredes, in an extended cameo) each get only a single scene in which to develop their characters, and also have to function as comic relief. Rappoport and Bellucci struggle to demonstrate why Roberto might have fallen in love with them, and Bellucci fans may be disappointed by her limited screentime.

Partly because of a detour to the hospital for a life-saving operation, pic frequently recalls Ferzan Ozpetek’s superior polysexual meller “Saturn in Opposition,” in which Favino also played the sensitive male protag. But whereas Ozpetek’s choral drama celebrated diversity, “Man” feels like a coming-out drama in reverse, with the heterosexual lead struggling to conform to a homosexual idea of romantic bliss.

Lush widescreen lensing and Carmen Consoli’s subtle score are the only tech contributions with a bigscreen feel.

The Man Who Loves

Italy

Production

A Medusa Film release, presented with Bianca Film, of a Bianca Film production, in association with Medusa Film, Sky. (International sales: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises, Rome.) Produced by Donatella Botti. Directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi. Screenplay, Tognazzi, Ivan Cotroneo.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Arnaldo Catinari; editor, Walter Fasano; music, Carmen Consoli; production designer, Tonino Zera; costume designer, Antonella Cannarozzi; sound (Dolby Digital), Gianluca Costamagna; assistant director, Fabrizio Bava; casting, Francesco Vedovati. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (opener, competing), Oct. 23, 2008. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Pierfrancesco Favino, Ksenia Rappoport, Monica Bellucci, Marisa Paredes, Michele Alhaique, Glen Blackhall, Piera Degli Espositi, Arnaldo Ninchi.

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