Review: ‘From the Waist Up’

A young woman with muscular dystrophy and a reduced life span conducts an impassioned epistolary romance with a killer in the slammer in "From the Waist Up," a decently made but ridiculous sudser best suited to teens and younger twentysomethings. Lines such as "What use are legs now that I can fly?" are more appropriate to dimestore novels than theatrical releases, though that didn't stop the Taormina fest jury from awarding TV serials helmer Gianfrancesco Lazotti's third feature its top prize, with the pic's leads sharing the acting gong. Moderate local play and ancillary are all that should be expected.

A young woman with muscular dystrophy and a reduced life span conducts an impassioned epistolary romance with a killer in the slammer in “From the Waist Up,” a decently made but ridiculous sudser best suited to teens and younger twentysomethings. Lines such as “What use are legs now that I can fly?” are more appropriate to dimestore novels than theatrical releases, though that didn’t stop the Taormina fest jury from awarding TV serials helmer Gianfrancesco Lazotti’s third feature its top prize, with the pic’s leads sharing the acting gong. Moderate local play and ancillary are all that should be expected.

Wheelchair-bound Katia (Cristiana Capotondi) acts as Cyrano de Bergerac to her intellectually challenged friend Rosalba (Nicoletta Romanoff) when the latter starts a correspondence with jailbird Danilo (Filippo Nigro). Just why Katia’s letters should begin in quite such a fulsomely passionate manner is never explained, but Lazotti, doing double duty as scripter and helmer, isn’t especially interested in background or motivations.

Pic uses a flashback structure, opening with Danilo allowed out of prison for two hours of conjugal bliss with Katia, his new wife, and then repeatedly jumping back to reveal the progressive nature of their relationship over time. Ten months earlier, Rosalba realizes she’s not in love with her incarcerated b.f., who’s serving 30 years, so for reasons apparent only to talkshow psychologists, Katia decides Danilo will be the love of her life (which, thanks to her illness, is only another seven more years).

Katia visits him in the big house, blackmailing the warden (Carlo Buccirosso) to gain access, and then, over repeat visits, convinces an initially hesitant Danilo that she’s the gal for him. There’s a fair amount of talk, on her side, of how right they are for each other since neither wants pity from the world, but just about the only believable element here is the bewildered Danilo’s capitulation under the weight of such forceful persistence.

Presumably, Katia’s spirited demeanor is meant to be sympathetic, though her personality jumps around so much it’s hard to get the measure of the woman. When she hesitates during their first moments of intimacy, Danilo tells her, “Put your clothes on; I’ll undress you” — a line that hints at a power dynamic, or at least an element of sexual fantasy, that’s ignored thereafter. Humor largely comes from a scantily clad Rosalba distracting the police superintendent (Pino Insegno) while Katia plots her husband’s future, but the joke, elaborately drawn out and appealing strictly from the waist down, tires quickly.

Capotondi and Nigro both took home the thesping award at Taormina, and while Capotondi is animated, only Nigro, an actor who consistently projects more weight and nuance than his scripts generally offer, leaves an impression of considered three-dimensionality. It’s time better projects came his way.

Alessandro Pesci’s camerawork is fluid, but Lazotti’s helming lacks any discernible personality. While the flashback structure appears designed to raise the pic above standard meller formula, it may actually hinder TV play. Audio quality is uneven, occasionally shifting into deadened spaces where the sound takes on a padded-room-like lack of resonance.

From the Waist Up

Italy

Production

A 01 Distribution release of a Rosa Film, Facciapiatta production, in collaboration with Rai Cinema. (International sales: Intramovies, Rome.) Produced by Pierpaolo Paoluzi. Executive producer, Carmine Parmigiani. Directed, written by Gianfrancesco Lazotti.

Crew

Camera (color), Alessandro Pesci; editors, Federico Aguzzi, Andrea Bonanni, Francesca Masini; music, Pietro Freddi; production designer, Fabio Vitale; costume designer, Alessandra Cannarozzi; sound (Dolby), Roberto Alberghini; associate producer, Massimiliano Leone. Reviewed at Taormina Film Festival (competing), June 15, 2010. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Cristiana Capotondi, Filippo Nigro, Nicoletta Romanoff, Carlo Buccirosso, Gianni Cinelli, Pino Insegno, Carlo Gabardini, Arcangelo Iannace.
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