Most plumage floats weightlessly in the air, but “Piuma” (Italian for “feather”) sinks to the ground without ever lifting off. That’s because Anglo-Italian Roan Johnson’s third feature is a grab-bag of naïve teens and unmodulated hot-headed adults who wear out their welcome early, engaging in cartoonish situations that are merely exaggerated, tiresome facsimiles of reality. The two protagonists — a pregnant 18-year-old and her true-blue boyfriend — have a breezy charm, but they’re surrounded by ridiculous caricatures. Unfortunately, “Piuma” is the sort of film that reinforces negative perceptions of Italian mainstream cinema, especially given its competition slot in Venice. At the press screening, several Italian shouts of “shame!” were overheard above some tepid applause.
Loquacious, impulsive Ferro (Luigi Fedele) and more level-headed Cate (Blu Yoshimi) have difficulty telling their parents that she’s in the early stages of pregnancy and they want to keep the baby. They’re still in high school, have little means of support and only vague notions that being parents to an infant means you lose some sleep for a while and don’t get to go out much. They can’t expect help from her dad Alfredo (Francesco Colella), a lying wastrel with a waspish girlfriend (Francesca Antonelli) — in fact, how on earth did Cate turn out relatively balanced given her upbringing? Ferro’s mom Carla (Michela Cescon) is sympathetic, but dad Franco (Sergio Pierattini) only criticizes his son’s bad decisions.
For the ensuing months, each signaled on screen, Franco will scream at his wife and son, Alfredo will act like a doofus, and the young couple will experience a few — but only a few — of the inconveniences of pregnancy. For added laughs there’s Carla’s stiff-jointed father Lino (Bruno Sgueglia), and kooky physiotherapist Stella (Francesca Turrini), whose technique for total relaxation can be imagined.
The film’s timing is ironic given Italy’s widely ridiculed fertility-incentive campaign unveiled last week, to which “Piuma” could be considered an adjunct, given how both are oblivious to the real world. Making matters worse, there’s a gay dig (the constantly exasperated Franco wishes his son were gay instead of being “normal”) as well as stereotyped jibes at Morocco and Romanians. Sure this sort of stuff will play decently to the masses at home, but why put it in a festival where it’s bound to be harshly dismissed?
Fedele demonstrates a winning screen presence, and Yoshimi holds her own, though her character is blandly formed (perhaps a necessity given that someone has to feel real around here). Visuals are predictably sunny, with a few “arty” shots of the couple swimming in a pool whose bottom looks like an aerial shot of one of Rome’s least interesting neighborhoods. Somewhere in all this there’s a message about allowing oneself to be free to choose one’s own path in life, but tell that to most teen parents and their response might be a bit different.