After 19 years away, veteran helmer Giuliano Montaldo makes an airless return to features with "The Demons of St. Petersburg," an overstaged, fanciful Fyodor Dostoyevsky biopic.

After 19 years away, veteran helmer Giuliano Montaldo makes an airless return to features with “The Demons of St. Petersburg,” an overstaged, fanciful Fyodor Dostoyevsky biopic. Long past his “Sacco & Vanzetti” days, Montaldo is tripped up by a superficially iconic sense of character and a weak script that fails to say anything meaningful about the conjunction between literature and politics. In short, this is no “Coast of Utopia.” Initial opening April 24, on 110 screens, showed respectable returns, but dropoff was steep a week later.

The middle-aged Dostoyevsky (Miki Manojlovic, largely passive) is summoned to a loony bin by inmate Gusiev (Filippo Timi), who confesses he’s part of a revolutionary organization plotting to kill the Romanov royals. At night, the great writer searches for Gusiev’s cohorts to prevent their next attack; during the day, he hurriedly dictates “The Gambler” to secretary Anna (Carolina Crescentini). Shooting largely in Turin, with only occasional location work in St. Petersburg, Montaldo favors tight shots to convincingly pass the Piedmont region off as Russia, though lighting is oddly theatrical. Dubbing feels old-fashioned, while Ennio Morricone’s fluid music sounds lifted from a far grander project.

The Demons of St. Petersberg

Italy

Production

An 01 Distribution release of a Jean Vigo Italia production, in association with RAI Cinema. Produced by Elda Ferri. Executive producer, Giulio Cestari. Directed by Giuliano Montaldo. Collaborating director, Vera Pescarolo Montaldo. Screenplay, Paolo Serbandini, Monica Zapelli, Giuliano Montaldo, based on an original idea by Andrei Konchalovsky.

Crew

Camera (color), Arnaldo Catinari; editor, Consuelo Catucci; music, Ennio Morricone; production designer, Francesco Frigeri; costume designer, Elisabetta Montaldo. Reviewed at Cinema Fiamma, Rome, May 6, 2008. (In Moscow Film Festival.) Original title: I demoni di San Pietroburgo. Running time: 108 MIN.

Cast

With: Miki Manojlovic, Carolina Crescentini, Roberto Herlitzka, Anita Caprioli, Filippo Timi, Patrizia Sacchi, Sandra Ceccarelli, Giovanni Martorana, Giordano de Plano, Emilio de Marchi, Enzo Saturni, Carlo Colombo, Cristina Aceto, Danny Berger, Steve della Casa, Marco Gandini.

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