With most neophyte directors eager to distance themselves from the moth-eaten comedy vehicles that kept Italo cinema in the creative doldrums through the ’70s and ’80s, “Once a Year, Every Year” figures as an exception. Second-time helmer Gianfrancesco Lazotti steers a veteran cast through their paces in an ensemble comedy that might have been made two decades back. Surprisingly, the result is relatively buoyant, with snappy dialogue and able performers helping to smooth out the fusty undertaking’s wrinkles. Less surprisingly, its most receptive audience will be Euro oldsters parked comfortably in front of their TVs.
Set during an annual reunion dinner of lifelong friends now at retirement age , the film’s conflict turns on a letter from a recently deceased group member proposing the rest live out their twilight years together in a disused convent. Initially, the friends scoff at the notion. But as the evening rolls on and the imperfections in each of their seemingly cushy lives are exposed, the proposal takes on a certain appeal.
The octet is a lively group of characters, from the dinner’s officious organizer (Giorgio Albertazzi), rudely awakened to his wife’s unhappiness, through the group clown (shoddily dubbed French thesp Jean Rochefort), to the overworked, underloved lush (Carla Cassola). The group’s traditional leader, Giuseppe (Vittorio Gassman), arrives after dessert and confesses to being under house arrest on fraud charges.
Perfs are sharp across the board, but more appealing when characters are bantering than when they are dealing with the script’s flimsily justified explosive moments.
Though the potentially static, theatrically staged situation remains mobile, the merit rests more with the actors and script than with Lazotti’s purely functional direction or the film’s modest, TV-bound look.