Rome’s contemporary art world forms the backdrop to multi-hyphenate Sergio Rubini’s combination of Faustian drama and psychological thriller “At a Glance,” a handsomely lensed but uninvolving game of cat and mouse between a powerful art critic and the sculptor who steals his g.f. The generally overblown story feels more indebted to the production designer than the three scripters, whose take on powerful art players stretches believability. Rubini’s popularity as both a thesp and a helmer, combined with the attractions of heart-throb Riccardo Scamarcio, have kept B.O. strong, more than $4 million one month into the run.
Machiavellian art critic Pietro Lulli (Rubini) brings his significantly younger companion Gloria (Vittoria Puccini) to a group exhibition, where she admires a work by struggling artist Adrian Scala (Scamarcio). A former student of Lulli’s and his g.f. since she was 16, Gloria is ready to break away from the master, and within seconds she and Adrian are hot and heavy, ready to run off together to his quaint artist’s shack on the beach.
A short time passes, and the three bump into each other. Lulli turns overly solicitous to Adrian, setting himself up as protector and mentor of the young sculptor, though Gloria is suspicious of her former lover. In one of many parallels with “Rosemary’s Baby,” the loving couple rents an impossibly grand and inappropriate apartment, not bothering to question too much why their rent is ridiculously low.
Meanwhile, Lulli organizes a one-man show of Adrian’s plaster and chicken-wire sculptures, but the protege’s head has gotten too big and he tells Lulli he no longer needs his support.
Though Gloria starts as one of the major players, she’s soon relegated to little more than a whiny, intrusive presence whose character development is strangled somewhere between sophisticated companion, with pinned-up hair and chic suits, and annoying Cassandra, in relaxed clothes and loosened tresses.
An extended sequence of Adrian shooting her in the buff forms the false and gratuitous transition. Puccini (star of popular TV series “Elisa di Rivombrosa”) appears capable of more nuanced portrayals.
This unevenness infects the entire screenplay, which rarely manages to create much tension, though a chase sequence through the Venice Biennale is skilfully done. The Roman art world probably has never been more glamorously, or falsely, portrayed: not even in France do art critics travel in chauffeured cars and private jets.
Rubini relishes his role as the scheming critic, and Scamarcio, consciously trying to ditch his coverboy rep as he did with “My Brother Is an Only Child,” again proves there’s something developing behind his green eyes. Only Paola Barale, as Lulli’s co-conspirator Sonia, seriously falls down in the thesping department.
Most notable of all is the impressively versatile d.p. Vladan Radovic, whose sumptuous lensing of Rome, Venice and even the ruins of Ostia Antica highlights their beauties without making the oft-seen sites feel banal or tired. Following his remarkable work on Salvatore Mereu’s Berlin-preemed “Sonetaula,” Radovic again demonstrates, in a far different vein, why he’s one of the top cinematographers to watch.