(Italian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian and French dialogue)
Newcomer Armando Manni weighs in with an original slant on the plight of Central European refugees in the West in “Elvjs & Merilijn,” which chronicles the melancholy journey of two celebrity look-alikes chasing their dream of la dolce vita in Italy. While the direction could be more muscular, this plaintive tale of beautiful losers remains intense, involving and considerably more ambitious than most Italian debut features. This resourcefully made low-budget production is seeking a strategic festival launch pad which may facilitate some limited sales.
Romanian Marilyn Monroe impersonator Ileana (Edyta Olszowka) and Bulgarian Elvis double Nicolaj (Goran Navojec) win a 1995 look-alike competition in Bucharest for which the prize is a summer engagement at a nightclub on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Seizing the opportunity as their farewell to poverty, the two strangers take off together, forced to communicate in the only language they have in common: the broken Italian they’ve picked up from TV.
When a bureaucratic hitch with Ileana’s passport cuts them off at the airport , they cross the border illegally by car, traveling through a part of southern Yugoslavia that is devastated by war. They accept hospitality at a military outpost, but the suicide of a colonel (Toni Bertorelli) there casts suspicion on Ileana. Afraid, they continue on their own, but the odyssey across the harsh, sunless no-man’s-land gradually scars them both, clouding their hopes.
The atmospheric, almost hallucinatory Central European stretch of this emotional road movie is far more effective than the climactic Italian scenes in flashy Riccione, where the duo’s act fails and they are given the humiliating option of performing in a sordid porno show. But despite some clumsy handling of this part, the story regains its footing and ends on a soulful note.
Director Manni’s greenness shows in the journey’s lack of consistent momentum and in some pedestrian choices — such as Ileana’s light-drenched dream sequences. But the drama has enough going for it to override these weaknesses. The two leads quietly but fully convey their characters’ anxieties, desperation and yearnings, and Bertorelli is especially impressive in his pair of potent scenes. The Slavic sounds of Italo composers Pivio and Aldo De Scalzi’s score contribute significantly.