After his melancholy drama of obsessive love, “No Skin” (1994), and New Age biblical saga “The Garden of Eden” (1998), Alessandro D’Alatri switches to commercial territory closer to his day job as an advertising director with “Casomai.” Slick, snappy and backed by a billboard campaign that could be selling Benetton babywear, this appealing relationship drama colored with understated observational comedy examines the toll that friends, family, peer pressures, career and social demands can take on love. Already emerging as a manifesto for Italians in their 30s torn between remaining footloose or starting a family, the film seems headed for a decent run locally after opening April 30. Offshore chances appear strongest on TV.
Title is an untranslatable Italian conjunction whose meanings range from “perhaps” to “if” to “in case” to “in the eventuality.” Those uncertainties represent the unknown factors to be considered by a young couple as they commit to each other in marriage. The couple in question is Milanese advertising exec Tommaso (Fabio Volo) and make-up artist Stefania (Stefania Rocca). Providing D’Alatri with a recurring visual motif, their view of matrimony going in is likened to figure-skating: maintaining a precarious balance on a slippery surface, accompanied by music that doesn’t always fit.
Tommaso and Stefania’s wedding ceremony is transformed by free-thinking priest Don Livio (Gennaro Nunziate) into a kind of open forum not unlike countless Italian TV talkshows in which relationship issues are thrashed out by guests and a studio audience. While the device feels like a construct, it represents a serviceable frame for the more convincing relationship chronicle. Action rewinds and fast-forwards from the church service, recapping the couple’s courtship, pre-marriage cohabitation, early days of wedded bliss and arrival of their first child.
The couple’s harmony is increasingly undermined as their social life disappears, physical passion gives way to parental fatigue, work makes demands on Tommaso’s time, an unwanted second pregnancy forces a painful decision and infidelity causes the bond to break. But as divorce lawyers are called in and the climate gets ugly, D’Alatri unveils a narrative ruse that allows the lovers to profit from broader knowledge and experience.
Prompting more wry smiles than outright laughs, along with bittersweet pangs of recognition, the screenplay by D’Alatri and Anna Pavignano pushes plenty of universal buttons but fails to get under the skin to the degree of films like “Lantana,” which looked at relationship crises from far more indirect angles. However, pic remains entertaining, thanks in part to the easy chemistry and affability of the romantic leads and to natural-sounding dialogue that avoids the Italian tendency for overworked prose.
Rocca comes across as softer, warmer and more appealing than usual, and popular TV and radio personality Volo makes a creditable transition to the bigscreen. Large supporting cast registers more as a part-protective, part-predatory force surrounding the couple than as individuals. While this serves the film’s overall purpose, development of some more distinctive characters would have given the drama more body.
D’Alatri’s familiarity with the advertising world gives an enjoyable insider feel to scenes of Stefania and Tommaso’s professional lives. That background also is evident in the crisp, fluid camerawork, limber editing, inventive fantasy sequences and a spirited score by Pivio and Aldo De Scalzi that touches on calypso, Middle East and Italian themes.