Though there's no questioning helmer Giuseppe Piccioni's high level of craftsmanship or attention to detail, "Giulia Doesn't Go Out at Night," like some of his other features, gets too caught up in its own minutiae.

Though there’s no questioning helmer Giuseppe Piccioni’s high level of craftsmanship or attention to detail, “Giulia Doesn’t Go Out at Night,” like some of his other features, gets too caught up in its own minutiae. Despite a top-notch cast and solid lensing, neither of the film’s central characters — the middling writer going through a mid-career crisis and the jailbird swimming instructor he takes up with — generate much excitement. Pic just managed to squeeze into Italy’s top 10 on its opening weekend in late February; local ancillary and fests will cover slightly more terrain.

Coasting through both his life and his career, novelist Guido (Valerio Mastandrea) is nominated for a major literary award. He’s got a pretty wife, Benedetta (Sonia Bergamasco), and an adolescent daughter, Costanza (Domiziana Cardinali), but is finding it difficult to connect with them. While they move to a new place, he stays in their old apartment to work on his next novel.

When Costanza tells her dad she no longer wants swimming lessons, Guido takes her place at the municipal pool, where he meets working-class instructor Giulia (Valeria Golino). She’s standoffish and obviously troubled, but Guido is intrigued and eventually gets her to drop her defenses. It turns out she can’t go out at night because she has to return every evening to jail, where’s she’s serving time for murdering her b.f.

Here’s a story Guido can really explore — one that’s much more real than the two he’s been grappling with. (The latter are fleshed out in fantasy sequences whose tone is deliberately different from that of the rest of the pic, but the contrast doesn’t work.) Guido starts a daytime relationship with Giulia, who begins to relax back into life, though these windows into normality increase the disappointment of her nightly incarceration.

Guido’s novel is called “Details” — fittingly, considering Piccioni’s studied sense of getting all the little things right — but, as with Guido himself, the details don’t add up to a satisfying whole. It’s as if Piccioni (“Not of This World”) is always playing in minor keys: There’s no emotional crescendo to make viewers respond to these people. Humor is meant to be provided by Costanza’s brainy peer, Filippo (Jacopo Domenicucci), but his pint-sized Woody Allen character looks out of place.

Mastandrea again essays a downcast man full of unformed disappointments, especially within himself; thesp knows this kind of role well but is now in danger of becoming typecast. Golino’s is the more interesting character — Giulia has at least felt something in her life — and the actress nicely conveys her protective shell. Bergamasco, in the meager role of Guido’s wife, surprisingly manages to create a real figure.

Technical aspects are all commendable, with the visuals carefully adjusted to place and tone: Piccioni and d.p. Luca Bigazzi understand the almost otherworldly timelessness of an indoor pool and play on it as a place apart. Piccioni also works in songs by Richard Anthony and Edith Piaf to provide the kind of emotional shift generally lacking in the story itself.

Giulia Doesn't Go Out at Night

Italy

Production

A 01 Distribution release of an RAI Cinema, Lumiere & Co. production. Produced by Lionello Cerri. Directed by Giuseppe Piccioni. Screenplay, Piccioni, Federica Pontremoli.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Luca Bigazzi; editor, Esmeralda Calabria; music, Baustelle; production designer, Giada Calabria; costume designer, Maria Rita Barbera; sound (Dolby Digital), Remo Ugolinelli, Alessandro Palmerini, Mimmo Granata, Francesco Cucinelli; assistant director, Sophie Chiarello; casting, Fabiola Banzi. Reviewed at Cinema Quattro Fontane, Rome, Feb. 24, 2009. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Valerio Mastandrea, Valeria Golino, Sonia Bergamasco, Antonia Liskova, Piera Degli Esposti, Domiziana Cardinali, Jacopo Domenicucci, Jacopo Maria Bicocchi, Sara Tosti, Chiara Nicola, Fabio Camilli, Sasa Vulicevic, Paolo Sassanelli, Lidia Vitale.
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