3rd 03 - 2016 | no comment »

Latin Lover (2015)

Director/Coscreenwriter: Cristina Comencini

2016 European Union Film Festival

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

The movie industry trades in all types for all tastes. Among male matinee idols, you have your blond-haired, blue-eyed men with boyish good looks (Tab Hunter, Brad Pitt), your frail, poetic, doomed types (Leslie Howard, Robert Pattinson), and your approachable sophisticates (Cary Grant, George Clooney). No matter what flavor you prefer, what’s great about matinee idols is that they are meant to delight, to provide us with enjoyment and vicarious romance. Taking the image of the matinee idol too seriously would ruin the pleasurable escape they provide when we need a vacation from our lives.

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This featherweight quality also makes them perfect targets for satire. It is in this spirit that a large raft of women in the film industry—director/coscreenwriter Cristina Comencini, coscreenwriter Giulia Calenda, and a bevy of actresses, including the great Virna Lisi in her last performance—came together to create Latin Lover, a spoof on the type of smoldering lothario that gives the film its title.

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The Latin lover in question is Saverio Crispo (Francesco Scianna), an Italian movie star whose serial infidelities stretched across Europe and the United States, leaving many broken hearts and attractive children in his wake. Saverio has been dead for 10 years, and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in his home town has his Spanish second wife, Ramona (Marisa Paredes), and his five acknowledged daughters gathering at the home of his Italian first wife, Rita (Lisi), to attend the ceremony and festivities surrounding it.

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Oldest daughter Susanna (Angela Finocchiaro) is the somewhat neurotic head of the Crispo Foundation, which is dedicated to keeping the star’s film legacy alive. She hides her relationship with Walter (Neri Marcorè), Saverio’s film editor and her long-time fiance, from the rest of the family for somewhat obscure reasons and refuses to allow him to come to the house or walk with her. B-list actress and full-blown neurotic Stephanie (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), Saverio’s illegitimate second daughter with his French wardrobe mistress, arrives with her half-black Moroccan son, Saverio, whom she delusionally insists resembles his namesake around the eyes. Ramona and her daughter, Segunda (Candela Peña), whose name proclaims her to be the actual second daughter of Saverio, shows up with Segunda’s sons (another Saverio among them), and her husband, Alfonso (Jordi Mollà), who immediately starts putting the moves on Solveig (Pihla Viitala), Saverio’s Swedish daughter. Near the end of the film, Saverio’s American daughter, Shelley (singing star Nadeah Miranda), also arrives.

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It’s hard to keep the players straight, at least during the opening scenes of the film, but eventually, the nonstop introduction of characters and polyglot dialogue mostly comes to an end and their personalities start to shine. Of course, jealousy rears its ugly head, as Ramona vents her hostilities toward the “American slut” who gave birth to Shelley and anyone else who stole Saverio’s affections from her, while Rita nods sympathetically but with a more generous attitude toward the women who found Saverio irresistible. Solveig tries to resist Alfonso out of sisterly solidarity, but her thermostat seems permanently set at hot to trot where he is concerned. A mournful-looking Stephanie bears her relatives’ slights with exaggerated winces, self-deprecating asides, and frequent phone calls to her shrink in Paris. Intrigue is stirred when Saverio’s stunt double, Pedro (Lluís Homar), shows up, and Ramona and Rita work hard to keep him away from a writer (Claudio Gioè) who is working on a life of Saverio.

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The actors work off each other with exquisite timing and broad emotional interplay, turning what is largely a sex farce into a breezy comic masterpiece that compares favorably with Alain Resnais’ final masterwork Life of Riley (2014). The old masters, Lisi and Paredes, offer brilliant portrayals of women who adhere to the non-Bechtel-approved roles of the sexes; Paredes especially seems the very image of a nonliberated woman until she reveals that she has found her freedom from the torments of love in a rather unusual way. The sisters seem resigned to multiple marriages and unfaithful husbands, as befits their generation, and argue more over the lack of a fatherly presence in their lives. Shelley even reveals that she thought Saverio would instantly know who she was on their first meeting, only to discover he had no clue and merely wanted to jump her bones.

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I was captivated by Toni Bertorelli, who plays Picci, an old chum of Saverio’s from their home town who shares his memories of his famous friend whenever possible in endlessly boring fashion. But it is Homar who nearly walks off with the picture as the ruggedly handsome oldster who can still spin a gun like a Wild West performer, chase down a nosy photographer and sniff out his hiding place, and cry like a baby at the thought of his “workmate,” Saverio.

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In the final analysis, however, the beating heart of Latin Lover is Saverio himself. Comencini opens the film with a full-frame picture of the actor and then pans out to watch a worker walk the photo blow-up to the theatre where a film tribute to him will be held. A quick review of his career via the reminiscences of Picci shows him performing in every kind of film imaginable, from Hollywood musicals and beach bum films to spaghetti westerns and neorealist dramas. The various clips and the very structure of Latin Lover call to mind some of the greats of Italian cinema, from Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone to Pietro Germi and Mario Monicelli. The final montage of Saverio images reveals that the women and men who realized no peace with who he was as a man found their greatest fulfillment in worshipping him as their ultimate matinee idol. Latin Lover is a superb comedy with heart that shows Italian cinema still has a great deal to offer, with or without its Latin lovers.

Latin Lover screens Saturday, March 5 at 6 p.m. and Tuesday, March 8 at 6 p.m. at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. A reception follows the Tuesday screening in honor of International Women’s Day.

Previous coverage

How to Stop a Wedding: A smart script and committed acting elevate a simple story of two jilted lovers sharing a train compartment who find out they are both planning to stop the same wedding. (Sweden)

Anton Chekhov 1890: The final directorial effort of René Féret surveys six years in the life of Russian writer Anton Chekhov in the naturalist style Chekhov helped introduce to the modern world. (France)

Home Care: A home health nurse finds out she needs care every bit as much as her patients in this rueful look at small-town life and middle-age regret. (Czech Republic)

Forbidden Films: Free speech is debated in this somewhat crude documentary look at Nazi-era films that have been banned from public viewing. (Germany)


29th 04 - 2010 | 6 comments »

Happy Ending (2009)

Director: Atsushiro Yamata

The 2010 Talking Pictures Festival (May 6-9)

By Marilyn Ferdinand

There is little that delights a film buff more than films about film buffs. Happy Ending, a perky rom-com from Japan, mixes the love of movies with just plain love, blurring the border between real life and movie life with knowing wit.

Momoko (Nahana) is a young “movie bum,” as the cranky owner (Reona Hirota) of the Asahi art house calls the small group of hardcore cinephiles who attend her failing movie theater. Edgy and unsentimental, Momoko dismisses a door-to-door fundraiser for a children’s charity with “Why do you have to do this now? Won’t the children still be there tomorrow?” As she pads around her cluttered and messy apartment getting ready for her job at a library, Momoko crushes her eyeglasses. With cellophane tape holding one of the arms in place and her dyed-red hair, Momoko’s nerd credentials are unassailable.

She visits the 21st Century video store to return and borrow some DVDs. She sloughs off suggestions about the latest rom-coms from Hollywood, flashing her returns in a clerk’s face—Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes (“the best”). Kuroda (Tomoharu Hasegawa), a Tarantino wannabe who also works at the video store, is Momoko’s film buddy, sharing with her a disdain for mainstream fare and its predictable plots.

Unfortunately for Momoko and Kuroda, biology overwhelms her good taste in films when she comes in contact with the dashingly handsome Murakami (Ryûnosuke Kawai), whose favorite film is Armageddon. Momoko’s coworker, the more traditionally feminine Maki (Mami Nakamura), starts calling Murakami “Prince” and points to the romantic cliché that brought the two of them together—when reaching for the same book, their hands touched.

Momoko is teased by Maki and Kuroda, replying “it’s not like that” over and over until it actually is like that. Murakami, who was first seen with a girlfriend, rather inexplicably asks Momoko out. Maki comes to the rescue with feminine clothing and the suggestion of contact lenses. When Momoko goes into the video store with some returns, she gets the full dolled-up scene, the camera panning from her high-heel shoes to the top of her head, where she now sports a Germanic braid headband. Kuroda, of course, is dumbstruck by her beauty and wants her for himself. But as in all rom-coms, he has to help Momoko in her quest for Mr. Wonderful, even though we all know that he and Momoko belong together.

References to John Hughes come up to let Momoko know what kind of a movie she’s in. And, of course, Kurado briefs her on the plots of these films she never watches to let her know what will happen next: for example, on her first date with the Prince, he tells her, something tragic will happen now that the two have finally gotten together. Sure enough, as Momoko protests to Kurado, who has followed her, that she’s not in a movie, Murakami is hit by an SUV as he is carrying some drinks back to her. It’s a very funny pratfall that leads to more mishaps that made me feel kind of sorry for the guy.

Kurado holds up Roman Holiday as his ideal of a good romantic comedy that doesn’t have a happy ending. And it is, of course, through Roman Holiday—just like Sleepless in Seattle and An Affair to Remember—that the destined pair are brought together. In between, we have a fair amount of movie magic that signals the film within a film within a film we’re watching—an appliance plummets to the ground out of thin air, Momoko watches a movie that is, in fact, the movie we’re watching, and empty streets and shops proliferate when Momoko is at her lowest.

A bit unusual for a DV-shot film, Happy Ending is a riot of crisp, dizzying color. All of the actors are wonderful and very appealing as screen presences. Even Kawai, who I thought looked like the surgically deformed Michael Jackson, creates a likeable cad who is only following the script. Most appealing of all is Nahana, who creates a gawky, confused nerd whom teens in any country could relate to—her character seems to have been closely modeled on Molly Ringwald’s in Pretty in Pink. The film has a Hollywood style, of course, but I was intrigued how director Yamata showed the odd mix of Western and Japanese cultures in his pans across storefronts and their strangely translated signage and artifacts of Japanese society in a vintage clothing and wares store.

Happy Ending is a lighthearted, Technicolor pleasure. Go see it with someone you love.

Happy Ending will be showing on May 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hinman Theater on the 9th floor of the Hotel Orrington, 1701 Orrington Ave., Evanston, Illinois.


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