Growing Artichokes in Mimongo” is a breezy comedy about love and unemployment , styled on the kind of no-frills, micro-budget U.S. indies, like “Clerks,” that rarely surface in Italy. The laughs in Fulvio Ottaviano’s debut feature are not always as consistent as they could be, but pic’s winning leads, lively soundtrack and amusing view of typical twentysomething problems should help sell it to young auds nationally and in offshore fest slots.
Picked up for domestic release by heavyweight distrib the Cecchi Gori Group, this resourceful production, made on a slender budget of $ 560,000, was shot in surprisingly crisp B&W on an antique Arriflex camera from the late 1940s.
Having graduated in agronomy with a thesis on raising crops in dry soil, Sergio (Daniele Liotti) determines to find a job, using a self-help manual, “The Practical Guide to Finding Work.” The tome’s optimistic author (played in voiceover by satirical TV journalist Piero Chiambretti) rallies him on through each step, from composing a resume through targeting a firm to tailoring his look prior to the big interview for an agricultural position in Africa.
Serving as distractions to his career mission are his ex-flame, Rita (singer Francesca Schiavo in her first acting gig), who is about to marry another man despite Sergio’s continuing passion for her, and his lady-killer roommate, Enzo (Valerio Mastandrea), who strongly advocates sponging off one’s parents.
Taking a light, off-the-cuff look at unemployment (which contrasts with the poignantly human one in Aki Kaurismaki’s wonderful “Drifting Clouds” this year), Ottaviano and co-scripter/producer Francesco Martinotti milk much humor from the seemingly incompatible combo of California-style positive thinking and the Mediterranean propensity for improvisation in near-disastrous circumstances.
Handsome star Liotti provides a solid fulcrum, even if most of the best dialogue goes to the extremely likable Mastandrea, who appears ripe to be plucked for more mainstream comedy work.
Starting out fast and snappy, the editing, like the humor, allows the material to become sluggish later on, but its easy unpretentiousness keeps it entertaining. Songs by Euro music star Jovanotti, Schiavo and other young acts pep up the soundtrack. Given the noise produced by the archaic camera used, sound recording is remarkably sharp.