×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Holy Tongue

Two of Italy's most accomplished actors, Antonio Albanese and Fabrizio Bentivoglio, make a formidable team in director Carlo Mazzacurati's "Holy Tongue," a delicate comedy about friendship, failure and the redemption of two very likable small-town losers. Combining elements of the buddy movie and crime caper, the film, intelligently scripted by Franco Bernini, Umberto Contarello, Mazzacurati and Marco Pettenello, strikes a fine balance between its lighter side and a more melancholy vocation, making it both humorous and poignant. Home-ground commercial prospects look excellent, and the comedy's accessible nature and universal themes give it a better-than-average shot at offshore arthouse dates.

With:
Antonio - Antonio Albanese Willy - Fabrizio Bentivoglio Krondano - Toni Bertorelli Ronchitelli - Ivano Marescotti Patrizia - Isabella Ferrari Saint Antonio - Marco Paolini Maritan - Giulio Brogi

Two of Italy’s most accomplished actors, Antonio Albanese and Fabrizio Bentivoglio, make a formidable team in director Carlo Mazzacurati’s “Holy Tongue,” a delicate comedy about friendship, failure and the redemption of two very likable small-town losers. Combining elements of the buddy movie and crime caper, the film, intelligently scripted by Franco Bernini, Umberto Contarello, Mazzacurati and Marco Pettenello, strikes a fine balance between its lighter side and a more melancholy vocation, making it both humorous and poignant. Home-ground commercial prospects look excellent, and the comedy’s accessible nature and universal themes give it a better-than-average shot at offshore arthouse dates.

Mazzacurati’s films in the past have dealt with more weighty issues (notably the uneasy connection linking Italy with central and eastern Europe in “Another Life,” “The Bull” and “Vesna Goes Fast”). Working in a lighter key here with his screenwriting collaborators, the director has produced arguably his most satisfying work yet, distinguished by a strong sense of place and a deep feeling for the landscapes of Mazzacurati’s native northeast region.

The odd-couple protagonists are Willy (Bentivoglio), who recently lost his salesman’s job and was ditched by his wife Patrizia (Isabella Ferrari), and Antonio (Albanese), a perennially unemployed onetime professional rugby player. While there’s plenty of money to be made in their hometown of Padua, the fortysomething friends speak no English and have zero computer skills, effectively cutting them out of the business community. Instead they hang out in the town’s most down-market bar and make modest sums through petty thievery.

A Saints Day procession and church service give them the idea of robbing the donation box in the local basilica. Thwarted by guard dogs, they run for cover, but Antonio impulsively steals a jewel-encrusted holy relic containing the tongue of Saint Antonio, patron saint of the humble and needy. Troubled by thoughts of the wrath of God and by the words of priests in TV news appeals, Willy wants to return the relic.

But emboldened by the idea of finally making some serious cash, Antonio becomes more ruthless and reckless, delivering ransom demands to the Vatican. His boldness proves contagious, giving Willy a sense of power over the city that has long rejected them.

When the church refuses to pay, Antonio goes to a Gypsy encampment to off-load a ruby lifted from the relic. But the Gypsy chief (Tony Bertorelli) guesses to the stone’s origin and alerts the media, prompting the duo’s hasty retreat from town and a flight across the region punctuated by surreal encounters.

The musical accents of the Veneto region give an amusing lilt to the dialogue, and the self-promoting TV campaign of one businessman (Giulio Brogi) for the statue’s return will provide the biggest laughs to Italians familiar with secessionist-minded Northerners. But the humor here is a lot less dependent on regional and dialect quirks than many contemporary Italian comedies, so it seems more likely to function beyond national borders.

Backed by a skilled supporting cast, Albanese and Bentivoglio bounce off each other with effortless affinity. Their contrasting personalities and physical types — the former chubby and jovial, with a volatile and sometimes surly streak; the latter dejected and lost-looking, incapable of reacting against the sadness that weighs him down — provide the comedy with a lively dynamic that recalls any number of classic comic screen pairings, skewed with an Italian twist.

The deftly handled comedy is never uproariously funny but consistently clever and enjoyable. Perhaps even more than this, however, the film scores with its beautifully judged, bittersweet undertone, driven by Willy’s sorrowful voiceover commentary.

Swept along by an eclectic soundtrack of melodic tunes by Keith Jarrett and other composers, the film owes much to the handsome widescreen lensing of Alessandro Pesci, whose customary use of deep, robust color has never been sharper, giving a lush, evocative feel to the expansive landscapes and rolling hills around Padua and the somber skies over the Venetian lagoon.

Holy Tongue

Italy

Production: A Medusa Film release of a Rodeo Drive/Medusa Film production in association with Telepiu. (International sales: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises, Rome.) Produced by Marco Poccioni, Marco Valsania. Directed by Carlo Mazzacurati. Screenplay, Franco Bernini, Umberto Contarello, Mazzacurati, Marco Pettenello.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, widescreen), Alessandro Pesci; editor, Paolo Cottignola; art director, Leonardo Scarpa; costume designer, Lina Nerli Taviani; sound (Dolby Digital), Mario Iaquone; associate producer, Francesca Di Donna; assistant director, Marina Zangirolami. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 8, 2000. Running time: 110 MIN.

With: Antonio - Antonio Albanese Willy - Fabrizio Bentivoglio Krondano - Toni Bertorelli Ronchitelli - Ivano Marescotti Patrizia - Isabella Ferrari Saint Antonio - Marco Paolini Maritan - Giulio Brogi

More Film

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    'Hunchback of Notre Dame' Live-Action Reboot in the Works at Disney

    Disney is in early development on a live-action “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” movie, based on Disney’s animated film and Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “Notre-Dame de Paris.” Playwright David Henry Hwang is attached to write the script, with Mandeville Films and Josh Gad set to produce. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz will pen the music. [...]

  • Bill Skarsgard and Eliza Scanlen

    'It' Star Bill Skarsgard and 'Sharp Objects' Actress Eliza Scanlen Join Netflix's 'The Devil All the Time' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “It” star Bill Skarsgard and “Sharp Objects” breakout Eliza Scanlen will star in Antonio Campos’ adaptation of “The Devil All the Time,” which Netflix has officially acquired for distribution. Skarsgard and Scanlen join an all-star cast that includes Tom Holland, Chris Evans, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and Tony Award winner Gabriel Ebert, who attached themselves [...]

  • READY PLAYER ONE

    How Writer-Crew Collaborations Are Changing the Script for the Creative Process

    In traditional filmmaking, once a script is written, the director and department heads break it down and figure out the costs and logistics of production. But if the screenwriter collaborates during the creative process with key crew members, the entire production can benefit.  Such collaboration offers the prospect of help on many fronts. For example, [...]

  • FICG TV Pitchbox Confirms Fox, Alazraki,

    FICG TV Pitchbox Swells Key Company Attendance

    Fox Networks Group Latin America (FNGLA), Alazraki Films, EndemolShine Boomdog and Fabula have confirmed their attendance at the inaugural FICG TV Pitchbox, the new co-production market of one of Latin America’s biggest film events, Mexico’s Guadalajara International Film Festival (FICG). They join previously announced participants HBO Latin America and Turner Latin America (FNGLA). More attendees, [...]

  • Alamode Acquires Lone Scherfig’s ‘The Kindness

    Alamode Acquires Lone Scherfig’s Berlin Opener ‘The Kindness of Strangers’

    Munich-based Alamode has taken German and Austrian rights to Lone Scherfig’s “The Kindness of Strangers,” ahead of the picture’s opening-night gala screening at the Berlin Film Festival next month. Alamode acquired the rights from London-based HanWay Films, which is handling worldwide sales. Entertainment One is distributing the film in Canada and SF Studios in Scandinavia. [...]

  • Voltage Pictures to Produce Airborne Thriller

    Voltage Pictures to Produce Airborne Thriller 'Blackwing' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Voltage Pictures will produce and fully finance screenwriter David Loughery’s latest thriller “Blackwing,” Variety has learned exclusively. The company will introduce “Blackwing” to buyers at the upcoming European Film Market at the Berlin Film Festival, which opens Feb. 7. More Reviews Iranian Film Festival New York Review: 'Sheeple' Film Review: ‘Storm Boy’ Nicolas Chartier and [...]

  • ‘Metro Exodus’ Opens Up Post-Apocalyptic Russia

    ‘Metro Exodus’ Author On Film, Possible TV Series, Expansive New Game

    Since the launch of the post-apocalyptic survival first-person shooter “Metro 2033” in 2010, the series has kept its action confined to the tunnels running underneath Russia. “Metro Exodus,” due out next month, takes the gameplay to the surface for the first time, going above ground with sprawling levels against a changing backdrop of weather conditions [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content