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Empty Eyes

A fascinating performance by Fabrizio Gifuni is the centerpiece of novelist and scenarist (Lamerica) Andrea Porporati's directorial bow "Empty Eyes." Compelling psychological study begins with a horrific, graphically staged incident -- yet subsequent focus is much less explanatory than observational, as Porporati and Gifuni vividly portray mental illness from the inside-out.

With:
With: Fabrizio Gifuni, Valerio Mastandrea, Delia Boccardo, Emanuela Macchniz, Gianni Cavina, Margherita Cenni.

A fascinating performance by Fabrizio Gifuni is the centerpiece of novelist and scenarist (Lamerica) Andrea Porporati’s directorial bow “Empty Eyes.” Compelling psychological study begins with a horrific, graphically staged incident — pic grew out of helmer-writer’s discovery that Italy rates No. 1 worldwide for patricides — yet subsequent focus is much less explanatory than observational, as Porporati and Gifuni vividly portray mental illness from the inside-out. While that theme hardly reps a major sales point, fest slots could conceivably attract specialized distribber interest abroad. Homevid and broadcast prospects are decent. Pic had its home turf debut simultaneously with its international bow in the touring New Italian Cinema festival.

Gaunt, shaky Marco (Gifuni) surprises his middle-aged father (Gianni Cavina) by turning up for a visit in the latter’s rather dingy resort-town residence. The reunion is distinctly uncomfortable — duo has clearly been estranged, and Marco seems to blame his parent for various murkily defined family issues.

Then again, the elder man appears at once battle-weary and well-meaning toward a son whose instability — if not its precise cause or nature — is quite clear. Pair briefly argues over a financial matter. Then, while his father showers, Marco takes out the kitchen knife he’s just bought at a supermarket.

Subsequent murder is messy, prolonged and unsensationalized in its ugliness. Pic’s sole, albeit significant, logic gap lies in local cops’ later failure to arrest Marco immediately.Checking into a nearby motel, Marco sleeps for many hours before police arrive. Detective Rinaldi (Valerio Mastandrea) immediately suspects the young man. Latter’s distraught mother (Delia Boccardo) and sister (Emanuela Macchniz) both must make a concerted effort to place blood loyalty above worst-case scenario fears. Meanwhile, Marco has other yet reasons to be paranoid: Two children in an apartment building opposite may or may not have witnessed something, while a teenage girl vacationing with her dad in the room next door invades his eggshell-fragile privacy.

Rather than develop these threads in thriller terms, Porporati stays true to protag’s nervous, cloudy, delusional p.o.v.Some auds may be disappointed by script’s cryptic refusal to define his illness, motivations, or even a much-alluded-to childhood incident in which his father “caught” him in some mysterious “bad” behavior that resulted in years of (evidently fruitless) psychiatric care.

Nonetheless, this tact makes pic in the long run far richer than the neo-noir suspenser its premise at first suggests. Like Alain Corneau’s memorable 1979 “Serie Noire” (which was similarly performance-driven by the late, great Patrick Dewaere), recent Gallic export “Presque Rien” (aka “Come Undone”) and Anthony Minghella’s grander-scaled “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Empty Eyes” is at heart less a crime drama than a scary, poignant plunge into a delusional mindset that can only regard normal human society as a cornered wild animal might.

Rising Italo thesp Gifuni (most recently seen in “Hannibal” and Giuseppe Bertolucci’s “L’amore probabilmente”) is the whole show here, his good looks subsumed by a never-overplayed craziness that seems to roil deep behind Marco’s transparent, puppy-hapless eyes. Far from “empty,” those peepers suggest so much baroque internal conflict that the thesp almost single-handedly renders script’s deliberate withholding of easy answers palatable, even preferable. Supporting perfs are in general aptly restrained.

As helmer, Porporati’s style is judiciously matter-of-fact, bordering on Dogma-style rawness without surrendering to that school’s potential affectation. Plaintive score by Andrea Guerra provides useful counterpoint to lenser Franco Lecca’s jittery visual approach.

Empty Eyes

Italy

Production: A Sorpasso Film production in association with Rai Cinema. Produced by Sorpasso Film. Directed, written by Andrea Porporati.

Crew: Camera (color), Franco Lecca; editor, Simona Paggi; original music, Andrea Guerra; production designer, costumes, Beatrice Scarpato; sound (Dolby), Alessandro Zanon; assistant director, Silvia Archimede. Reviewed at New Italian Cinema Events Film Festival, San Francisco, Nov. 16, 2001. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Fabrizio Gifuni, Valerio Mastandrea, Delia Boccardo, Emanuela Macchniz, Gianni Cavina, Margherita Cenni.

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