Embraced as Naples’ answer to Pedro Almodovar for his 1993 debut, “Libera,” Pappi Corsicato nurtures that kinship but moves in a distinctive new direction with “Black Holes,” a story of love and longing in the sexual twilight zone. Seasoned with entertainingly unorthodox humor and rampant homoeroticism, this funky account of unresolved amore between a low-rent hooker and an ambivalent Adonis is more audacious than authoritative, but it should swagger into its share of hip urban niches.
The mismatched lovebirds are Angela (Iaia Forte), the feisty head girl of a bunch of alfresco prostitutes, and Adamo (Vincenzo Peluso), a pouting platinum-blond stud who’s recently unloaded his male lover.
In the patchy opening reel, Adamo breezes back into town for his mother’s funeral and stays on, taking a truck-driving job dumping rotten bananas. Story clicks into gear when, during a roadside pause, he spies Angela servicing a client in the bushes, and an instant attachment is born.
The rendezvous is the first of many in which Adamo gets his sexual kicks from the spectator sport and Angela proudly writhes and pants for her audience. Their relationship remains sexually abstract, with Adamo unable to deliver on the physical side, but the growing affinity between them is warm and convincing.
Surrounded by colleagues who all suffer from some kind of physical or emotional affliction, Angela seizes on Adamo as her big chance for happiness. Ultimately, his affections prove fleeting, and when he is arrested for having inadvertently committed a murder, Angela declines to step in and lie to save him. But the brush with love has transformed her, bestowing her with a fantastical vision of new life and bringing miraculous results all round for her cohorts.
Despite the squalid circumstances and essentially downbeat realities of the characters, writer-director Corsicato supplies them with a dignity that elevates them to another plane, giving their cravings for a more fulfilling existence an odd poignancy.
Pic’s more surreal elements are less fully developed, a weakness not helped by special effects that are not so special. Splashes of late-’50s sci-fi and the cosmic slant on black holes as a kind of purifying galactic avenue for rebirth are droll and decorative but not entirely integrated into the narrative.
Earthier ingredients are closer to the target. The parched Neapolitan hinterland sweltering under the glaring sun, luminously caught by lenser Italo Petriccione, provides an atmosphere of heady ripeness. Narrative has a slightly underwritten feel, somewhat lazily bending to its own rhythms. But slender as it is, the story amply serves Corsicato’s purposes, taking an original route across the sexuality map and observing matters of the heart with an irreverent, affably lewd sense of humor.
Delightful legit actress Forte, who first turned heads in “Libera,” again provides a formidable centerpiece. She leads the other hookers with both tyranny and benevolence, and the dissolving of her haughty demeanor into the radiant optimism of love is persuasively played. Peluso is less skilled, but he effectively exposes the odd flicker of innocence beneath Adamo’s sleazy indifference.
The director also doubles as music composer, with a fun score that lifts from a variety of sources ranging from solemnly symphonic space orchestrations to kitsch sci-fi riffs to hokey spaghetti Western tunes.