Italy’s most eccentric actor-director, Maurizio Nichetti, offers another cheerfully offbeat comedy that should follow in the footsteps of “The Icicle Thief” and “Volere Volare” (just released in the U.S.) in making a profitable turn at the offshore box office. “Stefano Quantestorie” is packed with Nichetti’s very personal brand of humor that seems capable of leaping national boundaries where other comedies fail.
Undoubtedly his training as a mime (most evident in his first, dialogueless films) has something to do with the universal quality of his work. “Quantestorie” can be read many ways — as a funny series of loosely connected skits; as philosophy (everything happens by chance); or even as an experimental form of storytelling. Literally, quante storie means “how many stories” and is a parent’s reproof to whining kids.
As Stefano, Nichetti and his teenage alter ego, James Spencer Thierre, silently battle a hyper-protective mom (Milena Vukotic) and manipulative dad (Renato Scarpa) over the choice of a profession.
Stefano wants to study in America, or become a famous musician. Mama wants him to teach and get married to a nice hometown girl. Papa wants him to become a soldier.
As the film opens, daddy’s wishes have prevailed, and Stefano is a far too mild-mannered police officer working down at the station. He can’t believe the fetching girl in a snapshot (Amanda Sandrelli) is a bank robber. When he accidentally bumps into her in a toy shop, he falls head-over-heels in love.
Actually, she really is a bank robber, but before he can discover the truth, Stefano is transformed into the downtrodden husband of the nice girl his mother wanted him to marry.
The shrewish Caterina Sylos Labini makes life unbearable for him and their teenage son. Life would have been better if he had gone to America to study and become an airline pilot. In this scenario, he trysts with knockout hostess Elena Sofia Ricci — who is married to another Stefano, a post-hippie high-school math teacher.
Nichetti’s multiple characters (he plays six in the film) start overlapping in the same lobby, the same airport, the same disco. Naturally, nobody sees the faintest resemblance in the person Stefano might have been — also thanks to Nichetti’s makeovers. The roles are distinct, and none of them resembles the director himself.
The part that coincidence plays in directing our lives — in making us the person we are — is pic’s recurrent theme, and it gives the story enormous freedom of movement.
At times, “Quantestorie” seems to have too much latitude to roam.
This sense of random scripting is a little disturbing, but Nichetti masters it by keeping the film rolling along at a brisk pace. Film is just the right length and, though there are few belly laughs, the chuckles are continuous.
Another plus are the characters, all sophisticated creations out of a very bright script (co-written with Laura Fischetto). Vukotic and Scarpa are quietly hilarious as Stefano’s well-meaning parents (in one life they die abruptly and he has to literally run them to the cemetery in a vignette cribbed from “L’Age d’Or”).
Sandrelli (Stefania’s daughter) sparkles as the toy seller/Bonnie — her Clyde turns out to be another Nichetti.
There are no technical fireworks this time, like in the mixed live action/animation “Volere Volare,” but tech credits are up to snuff. Film has some great out-of-town lake scenery.