In a year when no Italian directors were lucky enough to land in the Cannes competition, the country is done no favors by Sergio Castellitto’s presence in Un Certain Regard. From “You Can’t Save Yourself Alone” to “Don’t Move,” the director’s work never strays from the kind of middlebrow aesthetic convinced of its own depth — only there’s no depth there. And though his collaborations with novelist wife Margaret Mazzantini are seen as prestige productions at home and tend to get big rollouts, their pat psychologizing results in unsatisfactory characters who careen down paths designed with elaborate, artificial, and deeply uninteresting detours. Even given limited expectations, it’s safe to say “Fortunata” has Mazzantini’s sloppiest script so far, about a hairdresser determined to open a beauty parlor but waylaid by an ill-advised (and truly ridiculous) hook-up with her kid’s shrink.
Winner of the Un Certain Regard acting prize, the always watchable Jasmine Trinca plays Fortunata (the name means “lucky”), a freelance hairdresser living on the eastern outskirts of Rome whose obsession is to open her own salon by the end of summer. She’s working night and day to earn the necessary money, angering her eight-year-old daughter Barbara (Nicole Centanni) by placing her in day care rather than toting her around on her various appointments (Castellitto depicts the clients as trashy caricatures to smirk at). Fortunata’s also hoping to finalize her divorce from abusive security guard Franco (Edoardo Pesce), a champ at making her feel worthless.
Barbara’s acting out so much (spitting is her m.o.) that family court orders Fortunata to take her kid to a psychologist — as if she doesn’t have enough to do. For reasons the script doesn’t bother to explain, Dr. Patrizio (Stefano Accorsi) allows Fortunata to sit in, and even Franco crashes a session, but after a few meetings therapy is inexplicably ended. Fortunata confronts Patrizio, their eyes meet, and bang! the two start passionately smooching.
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The side plot is even more ridiculous. Fortunata’s neighbor and best friend Chicano (Alessandro Borghi) is a bipolar tattoo artist drug addict whose mother Lotte (Hanna Schygulla, criminally misused) was once a famous German actress, but now can only recite lines from “Antigone” in an Alzheimer’s haze. Fortunata leaves Barbara in Chicano’s screamingly incapable care to go off on a secret two-day Genoese love fest with Patrizio, but a call from a Roman hospital has her racing back after Barbara falls and gets a concussion, resulting in Franco threatening to take his kid away from her mother.
Castellitto claims influence from “Mama Roma,” though apart from the working-class mother-with-a-fixation theme, there are zero parallels. Fortunata’s sudden discovery of love in the guise of Patrizio shifts her attention away from opening her own business, leading to various fateful errors, yet it’s hard to care when the central couple are just so groaningly stupid. Patrizio must be one of the most ill-conceived psychologists in recent cinema, and not just because he makes so many unprofessional choices; it’s doubtful even Mazzantini can explain why he brings a patient with Down syndrome to Lotte’s birthday party in a Chinese restaurant.
In his attempt to ground the film in a particular locality that happens to be home to large (for Rome) immigrant communities, Castellitto makes the deeply problematic error of making it look like Italy’s capital is being overrun by foreigners. Conspicuously juxtaposed against the remains of the ancient Roman Alexandrina Aqueduct, groups of Chinese women perform morning exercises; later in the same spot, Muslim men bow on their prayer rugs. African and Asian immigrants appear so often in the frame that one can be forgiven for wondering whether the director is pleased to see such diversity, or concerned that Italians are being pushed out from their former imperial glory by foreign hordes.
Amid all this activity, the camera barely leaves Trinca’s side. She delivers an over-sized, nervy performance but the material is so flawed that it’s hard to truly say whether it’s exceptional acting. Once again Castellitto inserts a wealth of songs at key “mood” moments, yet as always, he fades them out before achieving anything more than a cheap build-up.