Advance word touting “Maria per Roma” as this year’s Italo indie sleeper amounted to mere piffle, since Karen Di Porto’s fictionalized semi-autobiography is a weak vanity project marred by uninspired direction and an embarrassing recourse to national stereotypes in a bid for cheap laughs. Designed as a day-in-the-life tale of a slightly kooky aspiring actress working for an agency renting apartments to tourists, the film seems to want audiences to feel a mixture of empathy and affection for the lead, played, of course, by Di Porto, but notwithstanding the obligatory Cinderella moment, it’s hard to feel much for a script so oblivious to its protagonist’s entitlement. “Maria” may get local distribution but won’t be seen on non-Italian shores.
“Maria” is presumably meant to appeal to upper-middle-class Italians who’ve fallen on slightly harder times yet retain the trappings of their former income bracket: a good education, multilingual fluency, and of course a decent wardrobe. That’s Maria’s profile, and although her mother (Paola Venturi) is in debt and Maria herself occasionally rents her apartment with balcony out to tourists for extra cash, she’s able to indulge in retail therapy when necessary. It’s doubtful many of her struggling actor friends can similarly access disposable income, yet Maria (like the script) seems unaware of such distinctions. Or is it deprivations?
The film’s title comes from a Roman dialect expression, “Cerca’ Maria pe’ Roma”, used to reflect on the difficulty of finding something: the idea behind the saying is that with so many women in Rome named Maria, it’s practically impossible to find the one you’re looking for. Di Porto’s Maria is looking for an acting gig, but there’s not much time for perfecting her craft, since she’s mostly racing about the city greeting arriving tourists and showing them the apartments they’ve rented. That gives the director-writer a chance to show Arab women as bitchy whiners, Israelis as overweight schlubs, turbaned Brahmins who won’t lift their own luggage…. It’s all played for laughs, but such limp attempts at humor don’t sit well with the film’s supposed aura of hip cosmopolitanism.
As a performer, Di Porto has a pleasant screen presence, though populating her film with a mix of professionals and amateurs, all largely taken from her intimate circle, certainly helps to show off her training. The direction is less successful, featuring feeble scene set-ups and cinematography with no discernible style.