Crowdpleasing coming-of-ager set in the early '60s is enjoyable even if it only intermittently soars.

A staunch Italo communist, at age 15, dreams of space and a hot fellow comrade in “Cosmonaut,” a crowdpleasing coming-of-ager set in the early ’60s that is enjoyable even if it only intermittently soars. Tyro scribe-helmer Susanna Nicchiarelli doesn’t quite have the chops of screenwriting tandem Petraglia-Rulli (“My Brother Is an Only Child,” “The Best of Youth”) when it comes to contrasting historical events and personal growth, but the film nevertheless tugs at the heartstrings and should win over local auds when it rockets into cinemas Sept. 11. It will also find safe landings at fests and on niche Euro platforms.

First spied when storming out of her first communion ceremony at age 9 — Catholicism and communism were never easy bedfellows — plain Jane Luciana (Giorgia De Andreis) is a girl looking to define her identity amid passionately defended ideologies.

Her mother (Claudia Pandolfi) is not into politics, which she regards as only suitable for men, but Luciana’s long-dead father is widely praised as a “true communist,” and her older brother, Arturo (Pietro del Giudice), is passionate about all things Soviet, space travel in particular. In this environment, it is only logical that Luciana becomes a communist as well.

As a 15-year-old (now played by Miriana Raschilla, adequate), Luciana starts frequenting the local branch of the Federation of Young Communists. At their HQ, she falls for the handsome Vittorio (Michelangelo Ciminale), though he already has a g.f. Unable to control her hormonal urges, she starts going out with rotund comrade Angelo (Valentino Campitelli) instead.

Nicchiarelli, who co-stars as a party woman who inspires Luciana, makes abundant use of footage of the early Soviet space missions to spice up her relatively tame tale of adolescent woes, but neither story really illuminates the other. What could have functioned as a metaphor about believing in one’s potential — albeit with a certain naivete; who remembers the Soviet space missions now? — is nothing more than window dressing here. Ditto Luciana’s struggle to be recognized by her fellow comrades as a party member first and a woman second, though her own amorous feelings get in the way of that, too.

More carefully selected archive footage, a more focused screenplay and a tad more incisive direction might have added some weight and a dash more originality to the proceedings. When, in pic’s second half, Arturo’s epilepsy and an accident involving a rocket are used to steer Luciana left or right, the grinding plot gears are in full view.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy here, from vet Sergio Rubini’s delectable, one-note perf as Luciana’s stern stepdad to the unassuming evocation of the period, which should make it easier for contempo teens to relate to the material. Of special note in this respect is the use of newly recorded contempo versions of pop songs from the period.

Thesping and other tech credits are generally on the ball, and d.p. Gherardo Gossi goes all out on the overhead shots.

At its screenings in Venice, the pic was preceded by Nicchiarelli’s claymation short “Sputnik 5,” about the first space flight with animal cosmonauts that returned safely to earth.

Cosmonaut

Italy

Production

A Fandango Distribuzione release of a Domenico Procacci presentation of a Fandango production, in association with Rai Cinema. (International sales: Fandango Portobello Sales, London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci. Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli. Screenplay, Nicchiarelli, Teresa Ciabatti.

Crew

Camera (color), Gherardo Gossi; editor, Stefano Cravero; music, Gatto Ciliegia Contro Il Grande Freddo; production designer, Alessandro Vannucci; costume designer, Francesco Casciello; sound (Dolby Digital), Maricetta Lombardo; line producer, Gian Luca Chiaretti; assistant director, David Maria Putorti. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Controcampo Italiano), Sept. 5, 2009. Running time: 86 MIN. Italian, Russian dialogue.

With

Claudia Pandolfi, Sergio Rubini, Miriana Raschilla, Pietro del Giudice, Michelangelo Ciminale, Valentino Campitelli, Susanna Nicchiarelli, Giorgia De Andreis.
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