Satirizing the advertising industry is necessarily broad farce, given the artificial nature of the beast. Director Sandro Baldoni, whose low-budget “Weird Tales” won notice on the festival circuit in 1994, fuses earlier careers in satire and advertising with “Satisfaction, or Your Money Back” (aka “Wormitis”). “Weird Tales” had some surreal elements, but this go-round, Baldoni opts for grotesque hyperbole that is neither credibly realistic nor imaginatively fantastic. Prospects for an international career are slight.
An extended credit sequence has a dog (Scott) romping freely by the sea with another mutt. Black-and-white shots, confusing at first, prove to be the animal’s point-of-view of surrounding humans, whose voices are electronically-altered for a primordial bass sound. (The dog’s p.o.v. device, which recurs throughout the film, becomes tiresome quickly.)
By credits’ end, events begin to sour and remain so until final sequence of pooch’s liberation. Dogcatchers take Scott to the pound, where he is rescued by Vanda (talented Silvia Cohen), a stylist for an ad agency looking for just the right animal to promote a new pet food.
Unfortunately, the canned canine carne is an Argentine import intended for consumption by homo sapiens that has rotted and now swarms with maggots; vulgar businessman Esposito (Carlo Croccolo) intends to pass them off as “high protein Argentinean pampas worms.” In case the metaphor is missed, Baldoni inserts close-ups of the creepy crawlies at unexpected moments.
Central character is Stucchi (a pleasantly subdued Ennio Fantastichini), head of the Cain & Abel Advertising Agency located in a beautiful Renaissance structure (actually municipal buildings in Bologna) that has been defiled by crass mercantilism. Stucchi is so completely self-absorbed and narcissistic that he eats macrobiotically and measures his calves after biking, but has no moral sense. He cheats on his wife with an office assistant, but refuses to accommodate latter’s needs (she is reduced to wearing flashing and leather panties to get his attention, but then all of the women in the film are desperate and neurotic; Vanda even begins dating the dog).
Vying for a high-paying promotional account for AIDS prevention, Stucchi tells a staffer, “If we get AIDS, I’ll buy a house in Portofino.” Marketing tainted pet food poses no problem of conscience for Stucchi. He employs a movie director, film and art critics, even a priest, in his quest. Everyone can be bought.
Clearly possessed of a strong social conscience, Baldoni spares no one, but when even red flag-bearing demonstrators with no message are easily appropriated , one longs for the appearance of a decent person for contrast. Instead, the only faultless being is the dog. Filmmaker also takes aim at such timely issues as Italo nationalism vs. Euro community, the hegemony of high-tech communications, and the delusory dependence on spiritualists, but the ad-agency straitjacket weakens their thrust.
Production designers Giancarlo Basili and Leonardo Scarpa have created impressive faux-chic spaces and slick furnishings for the pretentious agency. Cinematography is first-rate, and use of direct sound (increasing in Italo pics) is a plus.