An Italo woman comes across a rotary telephone that can call into the past in "Discovery at Dawn," the second feature from thesp-helmer Susanna Nicchiarelli ("Cosmonaut").

An Italo woman comes across a rotary telephone that can call into the past in “Discovery at Dawn,” the second feature from thesp-helmer Susanna Nicchiarelli (“Cosmonaut”). This gender-swapped adaptation of a novel by former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni is more grounded in reality than any one-sentence description might suggest, using the twist not for time-travel balderdash, but simply to explore the relationship that a woman — and, as it turns out, a nation — has with a painful and enigmatic past. Local auds and sprocket operas should come calling.

After her mother’s death, frumpy fortysomething Caterina (Margherita Buy) clears out the family beach house. When she uses an old phone to call home, her younger self (Sara Fabiano) picks up just days before her father’s disappearance some 30 years earlier. While solving a personal (if somewhat predictable) mystery with national resonance, the pic slides convincingly between past and present, and Buy delivers an emotionally engaging perf throughout. Nicchiarelli, who co-stars as Caterina’s rock-chick sister, displays more maturity as a director, though the awkward attempts at humor almost all fail miserably. Assembly is pro, and integrated rock songs tops.

Discovery at Dawn

Italy

Production

A Fandango release and production in association with Rai Cinema. (International sales: Fandango Portobello, London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci, Laura Paolucci. Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli. Screenplay, Nicchiarelli, Michele Pelegrini, based on the novel by Walter Veltroni.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Gherardo Gossi; editor, Stefano Cravero; music, Gatto Cilegia Contro Il Grande Freddo; production designer, Alessandro Vannucci; costume designer, Francesca Casciello; sound (Dolby Digital), Maricetta Lombardo. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (Prospettive Italia), Nov. 10, 2012. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Margherita Buy, Susanna Nicchiarelli, Sergio Rubini, Lino Guanciale, Sara Fabiano, Anita Cappucci, Gabriele Spinelli, Renato Carpentieri, Lina Sastri.

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