A picaresque character comedy with a whimsical, dreamlike edge, “Tobia al caffe” mixes coming-of-age material with a more adventurous meditation on changing times and lost dreams. Result is not entirely successful, but, after a confusing start, it does attain a fragile, timeless charm. Veteran Gianfranco Mingozzi’s movie was the best of the lackluster Italian lineup at Taormina, but its commercial career, even on home ground, looks shaky.
The Caffe Quattro Palme is an elegant, turn-of-the-century-style bistro populated by eccentrics from a bygone age. Head waiter Giuseppe (Roberto Citran) is devoted to his work, and the only young regular is rich kid Tobia (Federico Galante), who treats the place as a spiritual haven. Ten years later, he (Nicola Russo) still hangs out there and starts a shy friendship with the serene Annetta (Candice Hugo); as young people and then homeless bums take over the cafe, changing its character, Tobia tries to adjust. Film’s allegorical side doesn’t always sit easily with its first-love story, and Mingozzi brings no special look to the proceedings. Perfs are generally OK, sometimes overripe.