In “Declarations of Love,” Pupi Avati returns to the warmly affectionate evocations of bygone Bologna that were his earlier staple. He obtains affably entertaining results, but clutters his subject with a clumsily executed flashback/forward structure that sullies the action in both time frames. Handsome production is unlikely to inspire the amorous odes of its title, but could court attention at fests and as choice TV.
The openly autobiographical recollection of Avati’s stately hometown in 1948 centers on 15-year-old Dado (Alessio Modica), his school chums, extended family and bungled attempts to strike up a romance with a series of uninterested candidates. Individual, loosely interlaced stories are picked up, then brushed aside with a captivatingly light touch.
Classroom scenes jauntily recapture the agonizing ritual of being drilled by a stern teacher (Ivano Marescotti), and the satisfaction of shrewdly escaping that fate. Home life is awash with eccentric relatives.
While there’s little of any significant dramatic weight, the delicate mosaic of characters and vignettes arranged over an undulating emotional panorama is fully functional in its own right, similar to Woody Allen’s “Radio Days.” But Avati also saddles it with a heavy-handed dramatic frame that he fails to integrate into the narrative.
Opening with B&W footage of a woman’s violent death, he attempts to tell her story both then and now. As the target of one of Dado’s failed romantic overtures, the character gels seamlessly into her surroundings. But as a menopause-stricken adult slipping awkwardly in and out of past and present, the character stands to leave most auds scratching their heads in confusion.
Large, able cast, including several Avati regulars, puts in fine work all round, with Marescotti’s teacher and Angiola Baggi as Dado’s mother among the most memorable. Cesare Bastelli’s warm lensing, suffused with a nostalgic glow, ably reflects Avati’s sentimental mood.