The neo-noir elements of sexual obsession, duplicitous women and suppressed identities are all present and correct in Roberto Ando’s attractive but self-important sophomore feature, “Under a False Name.” Clever nugget of an idea about a famous writer’s fascination with anonymity should lead to a grander statement on the destructive nature of secrets, but, despite a good beginning, Ando and co-scripter Salvatore Marcarelli turn a good blackmail story into a surprisingly cold non-thriller. Name cast and sexy advertising will guarantee initial brisk biz for Feb. 27 Italo release, but in the longer run this is only an average time-passer.
Handsome opening keeps expectations high as a flowing camera glides into a press conference, where Daniel Boltanski (Daniel Auteuil) anonymously observes the crowd gathered to celebrate the latest novel by famed writer Serge Novak. Only his agent (Michael Lonsdale) knows that Daniel and Serge are one and the same, the latter a pseudonym he’s used ever since his first, and greatest, success. Like Prince Hal surveying the troops, Daniel enjoys his cloak of secrecy, and, after giving reporters the once over, slips away.
Daniel is married to Nicoletta (Greta Scacchi), whose son, Fabrizio (Giorgio Lupano), from an earlier relationship, is getting married on Capri. On the ferry from Naples on his way to the wedding, Daniel makes eye contact with a beautiful young woman (Anna Mouglalis) and suggests they share a taxi into town. It’s clear they’re both attached, but after a little hand caressing they proceed to an all-night romp in her hotel room.
When Daniel wakes up, the woman is gone, and he hurriedly readies himself for his stepson’s wedding. After a disapproving glance from his wife thanks to his late arrival in church, he looks around and discovers that the bride, Mila, is his one-night-stand.
Back home in Geneva, Mila professes her ardent passion for Daniel, and their affair hurls recklessly forward. An unsuspecting Fabrizio wants his new wife to have an occupation and asks Daniel to hire her as his assistant. This arrangement provides a convenient cover for the long hours the illicit lovers spend together.
Then one morning, a package arrives with a compromising photo of Daniel and Mila, plus another, older photo of a man from his youth. The second photo threatens exposure not just of Daniel’s anonymity but of a secret he’s suppressed for many years.
All the elements are here for an engrossing tale, but the popular cast isn’t able to whip up much excitement. Helmer Ando, best known in Italy for his theater and opera stagings, obviously has a fascination with authors, as evinced by his first pic “The Prince’s Manuscript,” and if there’s one element that stands out in “Under a False Name” it’s the questioning of how much a writer’s life is also the province of his readers.
Autueil, always a fine actor with an uncanny ability to reveal his soul with the minimum of outward show, here underplays Daniel to the point where sympathy for his character barely registers. But if Scacchi is the sympathy magnet, her role as Nicoletta is too cliched. This is a pity, as Scacchi, with her large, expressive eyes like windows to the soul, continues to mature as an actress; she acquits herself with honors here but she has little room to create a multi-faceted part.
Model Mouglalis continues her string of sultry beauties equally comfortable on screen with or without clothes. Noir femme fatales usually start off cooler than ice, but Mouglalis, despite the hot sex scenes, remains glacial throughout.
The relatively high-end budget, around $7 million, looks like it was mostly spent on renting spectacular properties along Lake Geneva, which are masterfully lensed by veteran d.p. Maurizio Calvesi. Pic was shot entirely in French, with releases skedded for both Italian and French versions.