A large, colorful Neapolitan family in the early 1970s experience the decade’s radical social changes in microcosm in Ivan Cotroneo’s uneven helming debut, “Kryptonite!” Condensed from the noted scripter’s own novel, the pic needs further distillation to eliminate superfluous characters and bring to the fore the meat of the story, which gets lost amid nostalgic period detail. Cotroneo (writer on “I Am Love,” “Loose Cannons”) demonstrates a sure hand in the directing chair but oddly proves weaker on structure. Local success will depend on the competition, while offshore exposure will likely be limited to scattered Euro play and Italo showcases.
Italian pics set in another era have become too reliant onvoiceover, and “Kryptonite!” isn’t immune to the trend: Peppino (Luigi Catani), 9, tells the story of his family as if it were a fairy tale. There’s mom Rosaria (Valeria Golino), dad Antonio (Luca Zingaretti), and three much older siblings. Titina (Cristiana Capotondi) is his beautiful, hip sis; Salvatore (Libero de Rienzo), his Casanova brother; and Federico (Gennaro Cuomo), the so-called brainy brother. There’s also Gennaro (Vincenzo Nemolato), a slightly cracked cousin who thinks he’s Superman (hence the pic’s title).
They’re a typical Naples middle-class family circa 1973: Mom’s a typist, Dad runs a Singer sewing-machine shop, and the siblings are experimenting with the era’s newfound freedoms like bra burning, drugs and free love. The pull between tradition and “modernity” is never far from the surface, such as when Peppino’s teacher Miss Lina (Rosaria de Cicco) reminds her class they all have three mothers: their mom, the Madonna and Miss Lina herself.
Rosaria discovers Antonio’s having an affair and goes into a depressive tailspin, practically relinquishing Peppino’s care to her older kids, who inappropriately expose him to discos, a lesbian love-in and other fads. Peppino feels as rudderless as his mother, in a different way of course, until Gennaro, recently killed in a bus accident, comes back as a spirit to guide him toward an appreciation of difference.
Cotroneo does a good job of capturing the sense of a family on the cusp of a new world, both economically and socially, but he stuffs his story with a surfeit of characters and showy scenes, like a flower-power Greek dancing sequence that owes too much to “Hair.” Rosaria’s colleague Assunta (Monica Nappo) is especially poorly integrated, a grotesque object of ridicule presented as ugly and man-desperate. Unquestionably the best scenes are those between Rosaria and her shrink, Dr. Matarrese (Fabrizio Gifuni), which possess a palpable emotional depth that seems to come from a different movie.
This island of insight comes from not only excellent writing, but also terrific thesping courtesy of Golino and Gifuni, both projecting a sense of life going beyond the surface. Capotondi, too, proves she has a natural talent for bringing complexity to roles that feel unfinished; it’s time she was given something really meaty to play with.
Visuals capture the eye-popping tones of the era, along with the more muted, even dingy colors left over from the austerity years; Cotroneo and his design team get this crucial duality absolutely right, supporting the sense of an era uneasily straddling two sensibilities. While the songs, like certain scenes, occasionally push a sense of nostalgia purely to induce an easy smile, they’re well chosen and help drive mood.