Popular Italian rock star Luciano Ligabue moves into directing with “Radio Freccia,” adapted from his autobiographical short stories about his youth in 1970s small-town Italy. Avoiding the usual pitfalls of inexperience, Ligabue appears to have taken full advantage of an attentive producer, a talented d.p. and backup from a more seasoned director, making for a polished, visually stylish production. Loaded with engaging individual scenes and keenly observed moments, it lacks the overall control to bring the elements together entirely, but has enough energy and spirit to speak to young audiences and those of a similar vintage to the writer-director.
Starting in 1993 with the closure of a free radio station in the Emilia Romagna provinces, the story backtracks as DJ Bruno (Luciano Federico) recounts its birth 18 years earlier. Nucleus of the band of sex-and-drug-era vitelloni involved in establishing the station is Freccia (Stefano Accorsi), whose death from a heroin overdose prompts the rechristening of the network in his name. Fundamentally about friendship and the dreams and disillusionment of a generation, the film follows the group’s various paths with a tone that sways gently between humor, melancholy and affectionate nostalgia.
The least street-smart of the friends, Iena (Alessio Modica), fulfills everyone’s expectation of him to marry a nice girl and settle down, despite his efforts to prove them wrong; slick, hypercritical Boris (Roberto Zibetti) seems unhappily trapped by his own cynicism and lack of loyalties; Tito (Enrico Salimbeni) endures his severely dysfunctional family up to a point, before exploding violently; while Freccia drifts almost out of boredom and dissatisfaction into heroin abuse, then kicks the habit with the help of a selfless woman (Patrizia Piccinini), but succumbs again fatally after a bad case of unrequited love.
The film perhaps fails to display much of a point of view about the era of social change it depicts, and many scenes don’t quite click. But Ligabue’s script (co-written with Antonio Leotti) has the genuine feeling of a firsthand account rather than an outside observer’s view. What really is missing is a more concrete through-line to the vignette-laden story. In this sense, the character of a local bartender (’70s singer-songwriter Francesco Guccini), who functions as a kind of paternal sounding board for the group, could have been expanded to bind the narrative into something more fluid.
The appealing cast is ably led by Accorsi, who balances Freccia’s openness with his darker, self-destructive urges. Lenser Arnaldo Catinari’s agile camera, Angelo Nicolini’s economical editing and Stefano Giambanco’s retro production design and costumes give the film a sharp look. In addition to guitar music and a new end-credits song by Ligabue, the wide use of period hits by acts such as David Bowie, Roxy Music and Iggy Pop effectively helps define the characters and their moods.