The brash irreverence, earthy sexuality and cheeky humor of his first films “Libera” and “Black Holes” tagged Pappi Corsicato as a distinctive voice among the Italian filmmakers who emerged in the ’90s. Six years after his last feature, the Neapolitan writer-director enters more-ambitious territory with “Chimera.” Notable for its sharp visuals and meticulously composed retro-chic look, this stylized melodrama about love, sex and coupledom, plus the role of dreams, illusion and fantasy in keeping romantic chemistry alive, remains more aesthetically impressive than emotionally involving but should surface on festival slates.
Structured as a puzzlelike story within a story, in which fantasy and reality collide, the film unfolds as a postcoital bedtime tale told by louche illusionist Tomas (Tomas Arana) to his leggy mate Desire (Marit Nissen). It concerns Emma (regular Corsicato lead Iaia Forte) and Sal (Tommaso Ragno), who attempt to re-ignite their passion by assuming the identities of strangers.
Recounted in deliberately confusing, non-chronological sequence, these scenarios range from porn riffs — Emma saves Sal from financial ruin by giving herself to a lusty businessman (Franco Nero) — to hoary melodrama; tied to train tracks as punishment for her extramarital misdeeds, Emma is rescued by her husband disguised as mystery man Tore.
Gradually, Tomas is revealed to be the puppeteer pulling the strings that control Emma and Sal’s destiny.
Showing more than a hint of irony in their respective roles of femme fatale and smoldering Latin lover, Forte and Ragno adopt a non-naturalistic acting style and soap-operatic intensity that enhances the sense of their characters playing out a fictional drama. Perhaps as a result of this, Emma and Sal/Tore remain remote, unengaging figures.
The pic’s studied artificiality yields greater rewards in the ’70s-style decor and clever use of vibrant color by art directors Corsicato and Luigi Romano. The futuristic-kitsch architectural environments and inventive use of odd-looking vegetation create a kind of unreal sentimental dreamscape.
Eclectic soundtrack also underlines the synthetic aspect, with music ranging from tinkly cocktail-hour tunes to cheesy porn-film Muzak. Ultimately, however, “Chimera” lacks the fresh sassiness of Corsicato’s earlier work — more like a cool exercise in style than a considered exploration of the universe of love.