If Pupi Avati were to make a film with a gay character, it might look and feel something like “Magnificent Presence.” Helmer Ferzan Ozpetek continues to distance himself from any edginess, settling for sweet and sunny themes, and avoiding real struggles with this pleasant if cartoonish tale of a socially awkward guy who helps out a troupe of ghosts inhabiting his apartment. Unoriginal in plot and execution, “Magnificent” made its presence known opening weekend, taking in $1.5 million.
Decent returns are likely to continue for a short span, though Ozpetek’s fanbase has shifted to an older crowd. While his previous pics were shoo-ins on the indie gay circuit, the helmer is now pursuing a path too bland to appeal to the pink demographic, and there’s nothing here that would distress a provincial blue-rinse crowd.
Pietro (Elio Germano) should have known there was a snag when he rented a large apartment for little money. A wanna-be thesp working as a croissant baker, he’s got an OCD streak and zero luck with boyfriends. Once he’s settled in his new digs, Pietro is startled to discover he’s cohabiting with eight ghosts (including Margherita Buy, Beppe Fiorello and Vittoria Puccini) dressed in soignee style circa 1943. He’s the only person who can see them, but the catch here is they don’t know they’re dead.
After the initial shock, Pietro decides to learn more about these phantasms, especially since they’re an acting company sympathetically offering him advice on how to survive casting calls. Thanks to the help of the mysterious proprietor (Mauro Coruzzi, aka Platinette) of a garment factory staffed by transsexuals — a scene both superfluous and incongruous — Pietro traces the ghosts’ former colleague Livia Morosini (Anna Proclemer) to uncover the mystery of his friendly spirits.
A serious undercurrent, touching on Fascist-era atrocities, isn’t allowed to yield anything other than cheap sentiment; Ozpetek did a much finer job examining the past in “Facing Windows.” There’s little sign he’s especially engaged with this project, which is professional and slick, but rarely rises above the generic. The script tips its hat to 1961’s “Ghosts of Rome” (with some surely unintentional thematic similarities to Abbott and Costello’s “The Time of Their Lives”), yet the substantive qualities of memory conjured up by that Antonio Pietrangeli classic aren’t present in Ozpetek’s own ghost story.
Germano comes off well and proves he can play lighthearted, but Pietro’s character is just partly sketched in, and only the scripters could have added the necessary level of corporeality. Maurizio Calvesi’s lensing is attractive if lacking in nuance; ditto the music.