A bedraggled alcoholic slacker discovers he’s “inherited” a relative, at least for a few days, in Matteo Oleotto’s broadly played debut comedy, “Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot.” Firmly planted in the vine-rich soil of Italy’s northeastern region of Friuli and neighboring Slovenia, “Zoran” aspires to an American indie feel, yet stages the laughs too cartoonishly for wide-range appeal outside home territories. Within its borders however, and with the right marketing campaign, the pic could see strong returns, as presaged by the public’s prize in Venice’s Critics’ Week.
Friuli’s traditions, especially its wine and music, lend a special zest to “Zoran,” steeped in the spirit of towns close to the city of Gorizia, whose earthy residents while away the hours in rustic taverns when there’s no more land to work. Paolo (Giuseppe Battiston, heading toward a late Dom DeLuise look) is a misanthropic vulgarian wedded to cheap local vino, which he consumes in vast quantities. He’s a cantankerous worker at a retirement home cafeteria, spending most of his waking hours soused in a bar owned by Gustino (Teco Celio) or stalking indulgent ex-wife Stefania (Marjuta Slamic).
Basically, Paolo hasn’t moved on since his marriage fell apart, though he loses few opportunities to take advantage of the good will of his ex’s new hubby, Alfio (Roberto Citran). Then he learns an aunt in Slovenia has died, and he drives across the border hoping for an inheritance. Instead, he’s put in charge of 16-year-old Zoran (Rok Prasnikar), a nephew he’s never met who needs a place to stay for five days before he’s placed in a youth home. Paolo’s interest in playing uncle is zilch until he discovers the socially awkward Zoran is a darts whiz, and concocts a scheme to win bagfuls of money by entering the teen in an international tournament.
As this is a feel-good pic, it comes as no surprise that the Rain Man-like Zoran turns out to be just the thing Paolo needs to shake him out of his cranky torpor. The kid even finds an unlikely love interest in sociable peer Anita (Doina Komissarov). Real emotion could have been milked from these situations had the script worked on deepening the characters, but only Stefania feels like a real person, and Paolo’s behavior is so boorish that only the most indulgent audiences will be able to view him sympathetically. Why Stefania would have ever been with this guy remains a mystery.
There are genuine laughs here, though rather too many yuks come from region-specific accents and liquor. Pub regulars are like the denizens of “The Iceman Cometh,” only rather than becoming a sort of chorus of failed dreams and illusory hopes, they’re just alcoholics to be laughed at. Far more engaging is the use of regional a cappella singing, organically inserted and adding just the right note of local flavor. Lensing is solidly, almost ironically, observational; twangy, oater-inspired incidental music plays on the idea of frontier territory.